Visa gets serious about biometrics -

Visa is looking for industry partners to explore how biometrics such as fingerprints could be used to authenticate and streamline a raft of different payments.

George Lawson, Visa Australia and New Zealand’s head of emerging products and innovation, spoke at the CeBIT conference yesterday saying that the actual process of payments would gradually "slip to the background" as biometrics, authorised internet connected devices and contactless payment systems stripped friction out of the process.

Lawson said that 60 per cent of card transactions were now contactless, running at a rate of 70 million a month - meaning Australia had the highest adoption rate of contactless payments in the world.

Biometrics could further reduce payments friction, as long as consumers were comfortable with the notion, Lawson said.

"We are looking to work with industry on the issue. If I use a biometric how can I re-use that in another instance on the device?" he asked.

The user experience would be improved as there would be no need to re-authenticate the payer each time, but Lawson acknowledged that the biometric data and authentication processes would have to be managed by a trusted party in the payments equation.

He didn’t say whether Visa was willing to take on such a role.

It is however taking on the role of token generation to help secure a range of online payments. Tokenisation involves taking a 16-digit card number that generates a digital account number or "token" used to authorise digital payments.

If the token is compromised, the card does not need to be replaced – only the token. And because tokens are unique to a particular device, it’s not possible to take a token from, for example, a mobile phone and use it on another device. 

Lawson said that tokens would also underpin payments made in the future using wearable technology or internet connected devices, such as smartwatches, cars or refrigerators. 

"These are capabilities that are coming in the not too distant future," Lawson said.

Tokenisation is also one of the keys to Apple Pay, which has been released in the US, but has yet to launch locally. Visa launched its tokenisation service in the US last year and has pledged to roll it out here, but Lawson yesterday declined to comment on when that might take place.

Rival MasterCard already has its local tokenisation service up and running in Australia.

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