One of the biggest names in the fingerprint sensor business, Fingerprint Cards, has been struggling with some serious headwinds in the China region in particular. And, as detailed in our recent feature, industry analysts aren’t optimistic about a revival of the mobile fingerprint sensor sector in the future. But in offering her commentary to FindBiometrics, Frost & Sullivan analyst Danielle VanZandt highlighted some areas where fingerprint sensors could continue to thrive beyond the mobile sector, with smart cards offering “interesting applications” for the tech.
On that note, and with Financial Biometrics Month now getting underway at FindBiometrics, it’s worth checking in on this emerging frontier in the biometrics industry. And with the Treasury Department having just announced a new regulatory office that will scrutinize FinTech in particular, it’s a good time to focus on biometric payment cards specifically.
Various stakeholders have been working for years to lay the groundwork for the development and commercialization of fingerprint-scanning payment cards. By this point, the technology has more or less been fully realized, offering end users a contactless payment solution that can reliably authenticate the consumer as they tap to pay. Now, the key activities revolve around establishing partnerships and setting up trials and deployments with financial services institutions – and there has been a lot going on with respect to these kinds of activities.
Early Opportunities in the Middle East
Fingerprint Cards offers a good place to start. For all its candor about its various challenges in its Q3 report, FPC hits a strikingly positive note in discussing the “significant potential in biometric payment cards”, and adds that the company has continued to grow its operations in this area. FPC reports “substantial interest” in the Middle East in particular, with its two most recent commercial launches occurring in Morocco.
The region also brought news from other vendors pioneering the biometric payment cards space this week. First Abu Dhabi Bank, the largest bank in the United Arab Emirates, announced the launch of the country’s first fingerprint-scanning payment card, developed by IDEMIA and featuring IDEX Biometrics’ sensor technology. The development suggests that the Middle East could be an important early market not just for FPC but for various stakeholders in fingerprint-scanning payment cards.
Another vendor’s corporate update, meanwhile, also attests to the growing strength of the nascent biometric payment cards market. Unlike Fingerprint Cards, Zwipe is entirely focused on biometric cards, with payment cards being a key concern; and the company reported last month that revenues for the third quarter had doubled compared to Q3 of 2021. Its update added that seven of its card issuer partners are currently working on pilot projects, and noted that the quarter had delivered its largest commercial order to date.
Like FPC, Zwipe has also seen considerable interest in its payment card solution from the Middle East region. Earlier this year the company partnered with Areeba on a biometric card trial with an Iraqi bank, a development that followed on the heels of Zwipe’s announcement of its first biometric card trial in Libya, in partnership with Mediterranean Bank.
Europe and Beyond
But other notable activities this year point to growing interest in Europe, as well. In July, Fingerprint Cards highlighted emerging opportunities in Germany, citing survey data that found that about half of German respondents would prefer a biometric payment card over a traditional one. That came after Zwipe’s partnership with Fidor Bank AG, with the German bank planning to collaborate on a biometric payment card trial in the second half of 2022.
More recently, Poland’s Bank Pocztowy began offering biometric debit cards to its retail customers in August, after first offering biometric payment cards – developed in collaboration with Thales and Mastercard – to its corporate customers in late 2021. And last month brought the news that IDEX Biometrics, another provider of biometric payment card technology, had partnered with Poland’s TrustSEC on a fingerprint sensor-secured smart card system offering access control and crypto wallet applications. That solution is expected to see a commercial launch in the first quarter of next year.
How successful these various undertaking turn out to be in the mass market remains to be seen. But it all points to real, tangible progress with respect to the biometric payment cards segment as a whole as it marches toward the mass commercialization phase that so many of its stakeholders have envisioned. And it does suggest that smart cards indeed offer “interesting applications” for fingerprint sensor technology, whatever else may be going on in areas like mobile biometrics.
November 3, 2022 – by Alex Perala