Giving fraud the finger: Barclays banks on biometrics for business customers

Bank will offer finger vein biometric readers to business customers – could a consumer rollout be next?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Barclays is to begin offering finger vein biometric readers to its business customers in an attempt to cut fraud, and is exploring how the technology could be extended to consumers.

The bank will offer the readers, based on Hitachi's VeinID finger vein authentication technology, to corporate banking customers from next year.

After they have registered their details, business customers — for example, those in finance departments who might be making payments worth millions of pounds — will be able to easily access their online bank accounts and authorise payments within seconds by scanning their finger, without using passwords or other authentication code.

The bank said the introduction of the technology is a response to clients' concerns about the threat of online fraud.

Barclays head of cash management Michael Mueller said that sometimes customers share PINs and passwords which represents a security risk, but in contrast "your finger is unique".

Barclays' new biometric reader. Image: Barclays.

"Typically when you upgrade security you introduce complexity to the workflow... this doesn't do any of that," he added.

Barclays said that unlike fingerprints, vein patterns are extremely difficult to spoof — because they're internal structures they are harder to copy. Also, unlike fingerprints, vein patterns can't be left behind on hardware.

The finger being scanned must be attached to a live human body in order for the veins in the finger to be authenticated, the bank said. The false acceptance rate for the system is one in one million, while the false reject rate is one in ten thousand, it added.

The vein pattern data is stored in the biometric reader, which means the bank will not have access to it and there is no public record of it.

Hitachi's VeinID is already used on ATM transactions in Japan but the bank said the combination of vein biometric and secure digital signature technology in the Barclays biometric reader is a new departure.

The bank said there is future potential for it to be introduced more widely in UK branch networks, potentially bringing biometrics to millions of consumers.

When asked how long it would be before this technology was available on cash machines, Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays Personal and Corporate Banking, said: "We are working with Hitachi to see how this can be taken to the next level... biometrics is the way to go in the future there's no question about that we are committed to that type of platform."

The launch of the finger vein reading technology follows on from the bank's rollout of voice biometrics for Barclays Wealth customers to identify themselves on phone calls, doing away with the need for passwords or security questions.

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