CBA pooh-poohs competitors' NFC trials

CBA said that putting the secure element required for NFC payments on SIM cards is "expensive and complicated," which is exactly how ANZ and Westpac are running their NFC trials.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has sniped at its competitors' near-field communication (NFC) trials, which it considers "expensive and complicated," not to mention unappealing to the masses, according to CBA chief marketing and online officer Andy Lark.

Both Westpac and ANZ have started trialling NFC payment technology with a small group of Samsung Galaxy S III handsets. The secure element is embedded in the SIM card, and ANZ has revealed that it is using Optus as a telco partner for the trial.

While CBA's banking app Kaching supports NFC on iPhones through a specially made case, it does not work on Android phones, not even those that already have an NFC chip inside. The bank said that NFC chips in those phones don't have the secure element activated, and that it's up to Google or handset manufacturers to fix that problem.

Lark said that the company has had some encouraging discussions with device manufacturers that may consider giving the bank full access to the NFC chip to facilitate secure mobile contactless payments.

But it appears as though CBA is unlikely to follow ANZ and Westpac's way of trialling NFC on Android phones.

"We have watched what the other banks have done, trialling NFC on Android on a couple of hundred users — we could do that, but we kind of know what the outcome of that will be," Lark said at a CBA event in Sydney. "Integrating it with the SIM chip is an expensive and complicated proposition.

"It also doesn't reflect the agility a lot of end users have told us they want to preserve, such as being able to change [telco] carriers at will, and so on."

He said that the SIM secure element method will satisfy a small portion of the population, but not the majority of the market. However, Lark has not completely ruled out running a similar NFC trial, and said that CBA is still keen to roll out NFC for Android phones.

"We are also looking at all the other options out there," he said.

According to payment card technology specialist Datacard, the issue with putting a secure element on the SIM card for NFC is that banks are forced to deal with telco providers, or obliged to engage with a trusted service manager as a middleman.

Another way of implementing the secure element in NFC phones is to put it on a microSD card instead, said Sebastien Tormos, Datacard director of mobile solutions and business development, at the Mobile and Contactless Australia conference in September. But making this a viable method will require collaboration between banks.

On the topic of collaboration for NFC, CBA expressed frustration over the bickering that occurs between different companies that all think they control the technology.

"Google thinks it controls it, the telcos think they control it, and the handset manufacturer thinks they control it — they just block each other," CBA executive general manager for corporate banking solutions Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said. "Our philosophy is we're ready to go. It's a matter of getting the rest of the ecosystem ready and embracing NFC technology."

CBA on biometrics

Last month, ANZ said it is interested in a number of biometric offerings for verifying customer identity, including the use of fingerprinting technology at ATMs.

Lark considered biometrics at ATMs as being overkill.

"The ATM is one of the more secure devices out there," he said. "We will continue to watch that space if something interesting happens, but making something that is incredibly secure more secure — it's interesting, but there are other real opportunities elsewhere."

CBA is actively trying to harness the power of cameras on smartphones as a biometrics scanner.

But the bank is wary of actually storing customer biometrics data. While it's easy to cancel the details of a stolen credit card, it is a lot trickier when it comes to resetting customer biometrics detail, if that is even possible, according to Bayer Rosmarin.

"Fingerprints and biometrics cannot change if it ever gets compromised, and it's a responsibility we would take very seriously," she said. "While we keep looking at a range of different biometrics, we would only do it if we felt it was secure enough."

NAB already has a voice biometrics system in place for participating phone banking customers.

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