Biometric cards make UK debut in NatWest trial

Last updated: 01 May 2019

The UK has officially begun a new era for payments with the introduction of its first biometric debit card. Available for use during a three-month trial period, 200 lucky NatWest and RBS customers will be able to verify their card purchases using their fingerprint instead of a PIN code, even on contactless transactions over £30.

The cards, based on Gemalto’s biometric payment technology, were launched at events held last week in London and Edinburgh where Gemalto representatives including Senior Vice president, UK Ireland and Switzerland,  Howard Berg and biometric card owner Frederic Martinez joined NatWest and Visa to reveal the cards to journalists and discuss the benefits they’ll bring to customers.

Above: Gemalto’s Howard Berg, NatWest’s Georgina Bulkeley and Visa’s Jeny Mundi at the London launch event

Those attending the London event had the chance to hear Howard talk about the benefits and security of the card, before Frederic explained how it works. They could see first-hand how a fingerprint is registered on the card, along with the opportunity to enrol their own fingerprint onto a card and take it away with them to use for the first time. You can watch the London Evening Standard’s video of the event here.

Gemalto also showcased a Photo Card Booth that displayed our Instant Issuance and AllAboutMe solutions. This allowed attendees to capture their photo holding biometric card props and then edit it, for example by inserting their name. These were then instantly printed on to a sample payment card as a memento of the launch.

Above: Gemalto’s Photo Card Booth, at the London launch event, allowing customization of sample cards that could be issued instantly

How will the biometric card trial work?

The launch of these debit cards in the UK has been highly anticipated, shown by the size of media presence at both the events, and represents the biggest development in card technology in recent years, according to NatWest and RBS.

Previous successful trials using our fingerprint technology in Cyprus, Lebanon and Italy have shown the many advantages of biometrics cards for consumers, which include greater convenience and increased security. Our partnership with NatWest and Visa to launch these cards has now started to make the adoption of biometric cards a reality across the UK, and will feature for the first time the possibility to enrol your finger on the biometric card at home, without having to visit a bank branch.

The biometric fingerprint sensor on the cards will make card payments at the till easier for the NatWest customers involved in the trial. Not only will it save them having to remember different PIN codes for their various cards, but it should also reduce queuing times in stores, as the technology will be quicker to use than the traditional chip and PIN method. If they want, the PIN code method will still be available for customers to use as a back-up.

The participants will also have the possibility to pay contactless over the £30 limit thanks to the fingerprint verification.

Above: Howard Berg discusses the benefits of the new card

Additionally, the card will reduce the risks associated with fraud for those involved in the trial as customers will no longer have to worry about people stealing their PIN code. And to ensure the cards are fit for purpose, the built-in fingerprint sensor is powered by payment terminals during transactions, meaning the cards work without needing an embedded battery.

Enrolment

The fingerprint enrolment process is quick and easy and, using our new technology, can be done at a customer’s own home for the very first time.

To complete the registration process we have created a state-of-the-art enrolment sleeve that the card will need to be inserted into to begin. Then, it is simply a case of presenting your finger on the card’s sensor several times until a green light on the card flashes 3 times. Once you take the card out of the sleeve, the enrolment is done.

After registering your fingerprint on the card, you’ll be asked to enter the PIN code during the first payment in order to prove that you’re the right cardholder and to activate the fingerprint verification feature with your registered template.

We have also made the data on the cards as secure and private as possible by ensuring that there is no central database controlled by the bank that contains their customers’ sensitive information.

The future

In the future, we hope the cards can be adopted across the nation, especially as more than half of UK consumers declared they’d use the biometric payment card if it was available from their bank today.

We’ll be back on the road with the new card later this week, at another event in Scotland with RBS to show media there how the card works, and what benefits it will bring.

What would you think these new biometric payment cards? Are you keen to get your hands on one? Let us know by tweeting to us @Gemalto.

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