Visa pilots biometric ATM tech in SA

Banking technology could force the closure of traditional branches. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Banking technology could force the closure of traditional branches. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Johannesburg - Forgetting a bank card PIN number could be a problem of the past as first-of-its-kind technology is being tested in South Africa.

A person’s fingerprints, palms, voice, iris and facial biometrics form part of new specifications for chip-card transactions for global payment technology company Visa.

Visa on Tuesday said that the first-of-its kind technology framework is also designed to work with the EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) chip industry standard which is accepted globally.

The company is also testing its new biometric specifications for the first time in South Africa among a limited number of ATMs, thanks to a partnership with banking giant Absa.

"At the moment, it's really just a pilot phase to test the technology before they have any scale,” Kate Kelly, senior director at Visa for corporate communications Sub-Saharan Africa.  

"South Africa is the pilot and then they (Visa) will look at rolling it out in the US and other areas once the South African pilot has been done,” said Kelly.

Kelly also said that the technology is aimed at helping those, such as the unbanked, who are not familiar with PIN codes.

Biometric verification is further intended to prevent instances of fraud as it presents an extra security layer.

Visa also said that its tech enables fingerprints to be accepted by a biometric reader, be encrypted, and then validated.

“The specification supports ‘match-on-card’ authentication where the biometric is validated by the EMV chip card and never exposed or stored in any central databases,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Absa pilot involves the banking using fingerprint readers at selected ATMs.

Absa also said that biometric technology is also becoming increasingly important to the bank.

“Our pursuit of these trials with Visa is required to ensure our ability to inform uniform standards across the payments ecosystem, locally and globally,” said Cowyk Fox, head of Absa's card division.

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