The Pandemic has Called for Touch-Free Authentication for All in the ‘New Normal’

When COVID-19 was confirmed as a pandemic back in March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) encouraged people to not use cash. Since then, touch-free payments for shopping in-store have become a necessity for all consumers. However, as we see more stores reopen and people become more confident about shopping in-store, payments via PIN touchpads have started to return. As we find ourselves in the ‘new normal’, the global payments industry must now consider how to protect consumers from the pandemic and potential future health crises during the transaction process.

At the beginning of the pandemic, touch-free payments gained international traction across the world in response to changing consumer behaviour at the checkout. Previously, consumers were happy to punch in a PIN, but they are now familiar with more convenient and safer touch-free methods, such as contactless payment cards – and they’re not likely to let them go.

Across Europe, high-street stores have rapidly shifted to contactless payments, often refusing to accept cash. Meanwhile in the USA, contactless payments have rocketed since the pandemic after a slow initial adoption of the service, given that US banks only adopted contactless cards in 2019. That’s compared to 2007 in the UK. According to Visa, overall contactless usage in the USA has grown 150% year-on-year as of May 2020.

Even mega-retailer, Walmart, has recently introduced contactless options for in-store shopping and delivery to protect its customers during the pandemic – showing there is a growing demand for a touch-free and convenient way to pay across the world. This has raised awareness of touch-free payments among consumers looking to reduce contact-based interactions and time spent at the checkout during the pandemic.

The rise of mobile payments

Mobile payments are also growing, again showing the desire for touch-free authentication among consumers. According to Forbes, the US mobile payment market – currently only sixth in the world – has increased 41% and is worth more than $98 billion.

To respond to the growth of touch-free payments among small vendors, PayPal has launched a new QR code-based payment app that allows market stall holders or businesses without a PoS machine to accept payment through a code. This means even the smallest of merchants, from small stores and farmers’ markets to craft sales, can now go cash-free and use touch-free payments for everything.

Meanwhile, China has long been using QR code-based apps, such as WeChat Pay from tech giant TenCent and AliPay from Alibaba. The apps are so widely used that street vendors display QR codes for payments and together the two FinTech giants control about 90% of China’s digital payments market.

Card remains the number one preference

At the same time, payment cards are still consumers preferred way to pay. Of course, we only need to look to Apple and Google, who recently have launched physical payment cards despite running mobile payment apps for further proof that payment cards are far from dead.

According to Forbes, the US mobile payment market – currently only sixth in the world – has increased 41% and is worth more than $98 billion.

So why aren’t cards on their way out, given the growth of mobile payments?

We know that consumers still look to payment cards for security and a sense of familiarity while shopping. According to IDEX Biometrics’ research carried out in the UK, only 3% of consumers choose to use mobile payments, while nearly two-thirds (65%) state that carrying their debit card provides a sense of security. And when it comes to touch-free payments, only biometric payment cards can provide the most secure level of validation with an easy digital experience for shoppers.

Despite the popularity of WeChat as a payment app, China’s biggest card provider China UnionPay has recognised that its customers aren’t ready to give up on physical payment cards either. China UnionPay has recently certified the first biometric fingerprint card technology in the country as they look to the use of biometric technology in cards to provide an extra layer of security, with added convenience and hygiene during a payment transaction.

Secure and touch-free card payments for all

A fingerprint biometric card allows the user to authenticate their ID by touching their finger to the card’s sensor while holding it over the contactless card machine. Therefore, the shopper only has to hold their own card over the PoS system, making the entire transaction process free of public PIN pads or checkout counters. Not only does touch-free payment technology provide consumers with the convenience of contactless or mobile payments, but far greater security, as the card is personally tied to the owner. Furthermore, biometric fingerprint payment cards provide end-to-end encryption – securing the user’s card and data.

The process of paying with touch-free biometric payment cards is no different to how consumers currently use contactless payment cards. What’s more, biometrics are widely used in society and already firmly incorporated into our everyday lives. Thanks to unlocking our phones and authenticating payment apps, we are increasingly using our fingerprint to verify our identity. Now that consumers are familiar with the technology, it is only a matter of time until biometric identification in payment cards will become essential to help consumers navigate the shopping and transaction process safely, speedily and securely.

As our economy gradually reopens and consumers find their ‘new normal’, financial services have a responsibility to protect consumers during the transaction process to encourage greater security and hygiene at any point of sales. In stores, on transport systems – even eventually in stadiums – a fingerprint biometric payment card will provide touch-free payment authentication for all.

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