Zim trails behind as South Africa begins Fingerprint implementation to migrate from Chip-&-PIN Cards

Forgetting a bank card PIN may soon be a concern of the past for South African residents with a new biometrics standard to be introduced by South African regulators this week.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

The Payments Association of South Africa (PASA), together with VISA and MasterCard, announced a new interoperable specification to facilitate biometric authentication on payment cards. Remember in Zimbabwe this is a very sensitive issue which Minister Supa Mandiwanzira has been fighting to achieve since our ICT players are reluctant to share infrastructure which definitely leaves the services industry short of interoperability.   

This means a card issued at one bank, with specific biometrics, will work at another’s ATM and merchants, with the same biometrics.

PASA CEO Walter Volker said this was not possible in the past because biometrics systems were largely proprietary and locked to a specific vendor.

“Through this interoperable biometric verification standard in South Africa, we can connect a complicated web of players who operate with different rules and technologies,” says Mark Elliott, division president for MasterCard SA.

 The standard is a world-first and Volker aspires for it to be taken globally.

The specification enables a range of biometric solutions, from fingerprint verification to palm, voice, iris, or facial biometrics. However, at the moment, it will only include fingerprint authentication.

Payments authentication has progressed from signatures to PINs, to chip-and-PIN cards, which are largely standard now. Volker says fingerprints are next as they are more secure and convenient.

PASA says it has no plans to mandate the standard yet and it will be voluntary for banks and vendors to adopt.

No major banks in SA plan to migrate at this stage, although many do make use of biometrics in-house.

For it to roll-out country-wide, there needs to be adoption from all banks, which will have to reissue bank cards and upgrade technology.

Volker says it will be enforced when it gets to a point when there is large-scale deployment.

Bob Reany, global executive VP for identity solutions at MasterCard, believes the first biometrics payment could happen as early as this year, because there are smaller players in this market that want to innovate to be seen as “cool”.

There will still be a PIN option to pay where legacy hardware is still being used and biometrics authentication is not an option.

The architecture MasterCard and Visa designed enables fingerprints to be securely accepted by a biometric reader, encrypted, and then validated. It is based on chip technology.

Reany says this will prevent future fraud, as there is no large central database of passwords that a criminal could access through a backdoor. The ‘passwords’ (a consumer’s fingerprint) are decentralised and saved on the user’s bank card chip only.

The battle for relevance continues…follow Shingie Levison Muringi our Technology Research Specialist and Sub Editor on Twitter @ShingieMuringi1, Email [email protected] or direct Cell: 0775 380 652 for all the latest trending technological issues in and outside Zimbabwe.

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