MasterCard and Zwipe unveil biometric contactless payment card

Biometric contactless payment has arrived in the form of a new partnership between MasterCard and Norwegian tech company Zwipe.

Dubbed as the world's first contactless payment card to feature an integrated fingerprint sensor, the Zwipe MasterCard payment solution was officially launched in the UK at a special event in London's Canary Wharf on Friday – and it comes after a successful pilot in Norway.

Senior executives from MasterCard and Zwipe are marketing the new card as a more secure way to pay than other contactless payment options and a convenient method of transacting due to the lack of PIN number required at the point of sale.

It includes an integrated biometric sensor and the Zwipe secure authentication technology that holds the cardholder's biometric data, and it contains an EMV-certified secure element and MasterCard's contactless application. It is the first of its kind to combine biometric authentication with contactless payment, while cardholder fingerprint data is stored directly on the card, not in an external database.

Consumers can activate the card via a fingerprint scan, and they would then use the new payment method – to purchase goods of no restricted value – by placing their fingerprint on the chip when they place their card over a contactless terminal. VeriFone has also partnered with Zwipe for this launch, and its PoS systems do not react if someone other than the cardholder tries to use the card.

Ajay Bhalla, president of enterprise security solutions at MasterCard, commented: "Our belief is that we should be able to identify ourselves without having to use passwords or PIN numbers.

"Biometric authentication can help us achieve this. However, our challenge is to ensure the technology offers robust security, simplicity of use and convenience for the customer. Zwipe's first trial is a significant milestone and its results are very encouraging."

The live trial took place in association with Norwegian financial services group Sparebanken DIN, which is aligned to the Eika Group. On 21 May 2014, the first biometric payment using Zwipe was made in a Starbucks coffee shop in Oslo.

Some of the behind-the-scenes security elements are provided by French company Oberthur Technologies, another business that has partnered with Zwipe as the industry looks to bring biometric payments into the mainstream market. During Friday's unveiling, Nicolas Raffin, marketing director for payment retail transport at Oberthur, said that the card has the capacity to transform the way people pay for goods.

"It's crucial when you launch something so disruptive as this that it's available to 100% of your customer base," he explained.

Zwipe is working on the next generation of its card, which will be designed to work with all payment terminals for release in 2015. This new card will harvest energy from the payment terminals without the need for a battery.

With contactless payment now an established part of the payments ecosystem and figures showing that nearly 25 million contactless transactions were made in June 2014 alone, MasterCard's Bhalla thinks the time is right to innovate further through the introduction of fingerprint authentication.

"We are entering an era where there will be scale in biometrics," he said.

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