At the end of February, IDEX Biometrics announced it had a new CEO in Vince Graziani, a former Infineon Technologies executive. And now that he’s had a bit of time to settle in as the head of one of the biggest names in fingerprint biometrics, Graziani shared his excitement about IDEX’s activities in an interview with FindBiometrics President Peter O’Neill.
The conversation kicks off with a discussion of the major recent news that IDEX, IDEMIA, and Zwipe have successfully developed a new chip designed specifically for biometric cards. That discussion naturally moves onto the topic of contactless card technology more broadly, and later to the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the accelerating adoption of contactless cards. The interview also touches on Graziani’s executive background and his interest in IDEX, as well as the company’s important partnership with China-based FEITIAN, which is using IDEX’s fingerprint authentication technology in its own biometric payment card solution.
Read the full interview below to get a sense of what one of the most important players in the emerging biometric cards space is up to:
Peter O’Neill, President & CEO, FindBiometrics: Before we start off our discussion about your new role with the company, can we hear about the breaking news regarding IDEMIA, Zwipe and IDEX? This is hot off the press.
Vince Graziani, CEO, IDEX Biometrics: We’ve been working now with IDEMIA for quite some time. They had built a card with our current generation biometric system, and the current system is already a smart card that they’re running some pilots with. In the next generation, which is leveraging the fingerprint sensor from our TrustedBio platform, is really the generation where we’re trying to get the cards down to a price point where the industry can really accelerate adoption.
And even in my time at Infineon, we strategically had been watching this industry, and our internal guess and others in the industry have been saying, “Hey, it’s great that contactless cards are already changing the infrastructure, so the biometric dual-interface cards can be adopted. But until the price gets down to $10 or below, you probably aren’t going to see a big uptake or a big acceleration on the biometric payment cards.”
That’s really what TrustedBio is targeting and the IDEMIA, Zwipe and IDEX relationship is a nice partnership. IDEMIA are experts in card manufacturing and have developed their own secure element (SE), targeting specifically some features, in that SE, to have better overall system solution for the biometric smart card. It includes power management and some other features needed in a biometric smart card.
It takes advantage of our fingerprint sensor that we have developed for the TrustedBio platform, which is a low cost, highly integrated sensor. The sensor itself is a capacitive sensors where we have the capacitive sensor separate from the Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). Our technologies are silicon-based sensors, which allows us to build a much smaller ASIC, taking advantage of Moore’s Law and making a cutting-edge ASIC. The ASIC in the TrustedBio platform is based on a 40-nanometer design node with TSMC. So, it’s a really quite small and therefore helps enable this low-cost point.
Peter O’Neill: Well, it certainly is a very exciting time for the whole biometric card market. I remember when we first reported on this new industry that was evolving several years ago, and my, how it’s moved quickly. What do you think is driving this right now?
Vince Graziani: I think what’s driving it is, first of all, the adoption of contactless cards. And that adoption is driving the infrastructure, which makes it possible for the biometric card to enter the market without any big changes to the existing infrastructure. And then there’s always been this big issue around security and card fraud. So, the biometric card becomes an easy pathway to ensure much more secure transactions.
As you know, in the systems for our biometric card, once you enroll, the encrypted version of the fingerprint resides only on the card, so not on the cloud anywhere. You don’t need to worry about your biometric fingerprint signature being hacked or stolen. Your interaction with the biometric card, from the user experience point of view, is the same interaction you would have with your current contactless card, except that it’s much, much more secure.
Peter O’Neill: I’d like to talk about your new role as CEO at IDEX Biometrics. Congratulations. What attracted you to this opportunity? Can you tell us a little bit about that please?
Vince Graziani: If you probably look at my bio, I’m the classic entrepreneur. I’ve worked with several start-ups starting way back. In 1997 I joined a company that was kind of past the start-up stage but it’s where I got the bug. That company was called Level One Communications. I was living and working remotely from my family most of the time in Sacramento, California. I spent a lot of time with the founding team and asked a lot of questions such as, “How did you start this company? How do you get VC funding? Where did you get your ideas? How does the whole thing come together?”
That company was acquired by Intel and almost immediately after that acquisition, I started thinking about how someday I would like to start a company myself. Eventually I put together a business plan, and I went out and pitched that business plan, and ultimately got put together with a team from MIT that was also pitching a similar business plan. And we joined forces and formed a company which was Sandburst, my very first start-up.
Then if you look at my whole history, I’ve been with three different start-ups as CEO over the last 15 plus years. I really enjoy that small company environment and the challenge. I think I’m the typical entrepreneur when you ask many of us, “Why do we do it?” It’s a chance to leave a mark on the world. I mean, one of the things that really attracted me about IDEX was the more that I looked into the industry, the company and the technology, I saw a future where almost all of us are carrying biometric payment cards in our wallets as well as biometric ID. What was particularly attractive to me was to be able to tell people, “Yeah, that’s my company. That’s a company that I joined back in 2020 and now it’s ubiquitous. We’re all carrying these biometric smart cards. It’s just a way of life.”
I remember back when I used to pitch VCs in my earlier start-up days, they often commented, “We like entrepreneurs that have a good business plan, but mostly we bet on the ones that want to change the world.” And I saw IDEX as one of those opportunities where you can really change the world.
Peter O’Neill: Well, as a fellow entrepreneur, I couldn’t agree more. The whole identity biometric industry is moving quite rapidly right now. And I’d like to just talk a little bit about some of the current world events. How are issues such as the coronavirus influencing the payment sector, and how do you think this will drive uptake in the biometric card market?
Vince Graziani:, Just look at the acceleration of the adoption of contactless payments. And then consider touching a keypad. Today everybody understands that keypad could be unhygienic.
Here’s a personal anecdote, from just a few weeks ago, when I needed some things at the store. I’ve been trying to get mostly things on delivery, but I did end up having to go to a store and shop for several items. When I got to the register they had a big shield set up between me and the cashier, which was great, but when I pulled out my contactless credit card and tapped the terminal the clerk thanked me and said, “Oh, I’m so happy when somebody has one of those contactless cards, as now I don’t have to clean down the whole terminal system and pen.” Nobody wants to touch the cash right now, people are going to be looking for contactless payment systems and the biometric smartcard plays very well into that.
Peter O’Neill: Yes, and not only for payments– identification and access control also come to mind.
I’d also like to delve into the recent news that, FEITIAN has received certifications from China Union Pay (CUP) for a biometric payment card. This uses your fingerprint authentication technology. Tell us a little bit more about that, and what it means in terms of adoption globally.
Vince Graziani: FEITIAN is already big in the access control space, and they are looking at adding biometrics to the whole access control space. For them it was natural to say, “Okay, we understand the manufacturing issues around smart card manufacturing.” And when you think about the electronics in a biometrics card, it’s actually quite an interesting and complex little electronic subsystem. There are multiple processors, there’s power management, there’s energy harvesting, multiple layers of flex circuits and antenna for the energy harvesting.
There is no denying the manufacturing process is fairly complex, and FEITIAN took their expertise from access control cards to applied it to the biometric payment card. And like IDEX, they see that this is going to become a huge market and that biometric payments cards will probably start ramping up in 2021. They could see this was coming and they wanted to have a biometric payment card that was not only fit-for-purpose but certified by one of the biggest payment networks in the world.
Peter O’Neill: Well, exciting indeed, Vince. Nice to hear that the biometric card market is really moving ahead as rapidly as it is right now. Congratulations on your new role as CEO, and we look forward to reporting further news about your activities in the coming year. Best of luck with the current crisis globally that we’re all feeling, and thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck.
Vince Graziani: Thank you, Peter. It’s great chatting with you. I appreciate it. I look forward to meeting you in person someday!