Visa will test biometric EMV specification in South Africa

The new payments specification uses biometrics, such as palm, voice, iris or facial scans, to verify chip card transactions.


Visa is beginning a proof of concept trial in South Africa to test a payments specification that uses biometrics to verify chip card transactions. Absa Bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group, intends to use the specification on fingerprint readers at selected ATMs in lieu of a PIN.

The specification can enable palm, voice, iris or facial biometrics, according to Visa. With fingerprints, for example, the technology allows a fingerprint to be securely accepted by a biometric reader, encrypted, and then validated.

The technology framework is designed to work with the Europay, MasterCard, Visa (EMV) chip standard to ensure global interoperability. Which means that although the trial is limited to South Africa, where Visa is admirably focused on providing the population easier access to banking, it could eventually expand to other regions where EMV is supported.

And as we all know, the US migration to EMV standards is right around the corner. However, Visa did not make any expansion plans immediately clear.

"There is increasing demand for biometrics as a more convenient and secure alternative to signatures or PINs, especially as biometrics technologies have become more reliable and available," said Mark Nelsen, SVP of Risk Products and BI for Visa, in a statement. "However, to support wide adoption, it is equally important that solutions are scalable and based on open standards. Building on the EMV chip standard provides a common, interoperable foundation, as well as encourages innovation in cutting-edge biometric solutions."

For now it seems as though use cases for the specification are limited to just chip-enabled ATMs, but it's not hard to imagine biometrics eventually trumping PINs at the point of sale.

Visa said it plans to offer the technology to EMVCo, the global technical organization that manages the EMV Specifications, to further develop and administer the standard.


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