Early trials of cards with fingerprint scanners built-in are underway, and success could eventually result in the death of the humble PIN. "A four-digit PIN is pretty good security – obviously, six, seven or eight digits are better, but it is very hard for people to remember," says Bob Reany, an executive vice president at Mastercard, who is working on the firm's biometric cards. "[This] security is going to be better than a PIN."
In April 2017, Mastercard started testing a biometric card in South Africa. The new card looks the same as any other bank card but has a small biometric scanner in the top right-hand corner. When a finger is placed on the sensor, it can recognize if it is a match with stored data and then authorize the payment.
Mastercard now has more trials running in Bulgaria, and Reany says thousands of fingerprint-detecting cards will be tested elsewhere in the world later this year. "We've gotten the algorithms in great shape, now we're doing matching on the native device where the template is captured, and we're ready to go to market at some scale," he says. Crucially, in the coming months, banks will be issuing them to regular customers for the first time. Reany won't reveal exactly where the cards will be given to people, but he says more announcements are coming. "I think you're going to see pockets of Europe go pretty quickly," Reany says of potential adoption.
Rival Visa is also testing biometric cards in Cyprus with the country's national bank and security company Gemalto, which has been creating the cards for both of the major payment companies, says it has produced "tens of thousands" of biometric cards for tests.
Ultimately, payment companies are continuing to develop biometric bank cards, and trials are getting bigger. At their very least, biometric cards will offer a slightly more convenient way to pay, but they may also evolve with increasing use of fingerprint technology in other areas of people's lives. As Berg says: "People forget their PINs but very rarely do you go out without your fingers."