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Real Economy News in Real Time
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Mastercard tests new biometric cards in South Africa

20th April 2017 BY: Megan van Wyngaardt
Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

South Africa is the first market to test payment technology provider Mastercard’s next-generation biometric card, which combines chip technology with fingerprints to conveniently and safely store a cardholder’s identity for in-store purchases.

Two separate trials with retailer Pick n Pay and financial services provider Absa Bank were recently concluded.


The new card builds on fingerprint scanning technology used for mobile payments today and can be used at Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) terminals worldwide.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics. Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected,” said Mastercard enterprise risk and security president Ajay Bhalla.

A cardholder enrolls their card by registering with their financial institution. Upon registration, their fingerprint is converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card. The card is then ready to be used at any EMV card terminal globally.

When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor.

The fingerprint is verified against the template and, if the biometrics match, the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.

Authenticating a payment transaction biometrically confirms that the person using the card is the genuine cardholder.

The technology helps detect and prevent fraud, increase approval rates, reduce operational costs and foster customer loyalty. Additionally, a future version of the card will feature contactless technology, adding to the simplicity and convenience at checkout.

The recent South African trials mobilised employees from Pick n Pay and Absa Bank to test the potential ways convenience and security could contribute to the checkout process.

Over the next few months, additional trials will be conducted with the biometric card. A full roll-out is expected later this year.

Pick n Pay deputy CEO Richard van Rensburg highlighted that biometric capability would add convenience and enhanced security to customers. “The technology creates a platform on which we can further our strategy of personalising the shopping experience in a meaningful way,” he added. 

For Absa, the biometric card forms part of the bank’s strategy to test and develop sophisticated technology capabilities designed to improve its payment operations and client service, reduce risk and make banking easier and even more secure for its customers.

“We are very proud to be the first bank in Africa to test – in a real payment environment – the single-touch authentication technology that will unlock the benefits of biometrics,” said Absa Retail and Business Banking card and payments head Geoff Lee.

“The technology will effectively enable our customers to rely on their unique fingerprints to make payments in a face-to-face environment. Following the test period, we will make it available to our customers in a way that is affordable, reliable, convenient and, most importantly, extremely secure,” he added.

Additional trials are being planned in Europe and Asia Pacific in the coming months. 

EDITED BY: Chanel de Bruyn Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online
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