The Covid-19 Pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a cashless society. With the contactless and digital payment methods encouraged to reduce transmission rates, the world is becoming more online-centric. However, not everyone can keep up with this, as a cashless society would exclude many all over the globe who are unbanked and underserved.
Vince Graziani is the CEO of IDEX Biometrics ASA, a Norwegian biometrics company. He became CEO in early 2020, joining IDEX from Infineon Technologies where he was Vice President of Strategy Development and Implementation, responsible for leading new business development and strategic partnerships.
Here he shares his thoughts on how biometric identification ensures access to payments in a cashless world.
The events of this year have exacerbated a number of challenges for vulnerable members of our society. Fears over health have been compounded by the accelerated digitisation of activities in their daily lives, such as video calls with family, shopping online and mobile banking – activities they may have already been daunted by. Chief among these evolutions has been the pronounced lean away from the use of cash. With many not comfortable with the complexity and security of digital payments, banks must explore an alternative in the form of biometric identification.
COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown restrictions have not only made the handling of cash difficult, but even unsanitary. Many retailers have either stated their preference for digital payments or indeed forbidden the use of cash during transactions. As a result, the UK cash machine network, Link has reported a 55% drop in ATM usage over the course of 2020.
Meanwhile, in the US, a similar decline in cash has led to a rapid rise in digital payments and mobile payment apps, thanks to comparable regulations and an increase to the contactless payment limit of up to $250. According to recent research, 28% of US shoppers would avoid a retailer that doesn’t offer contactless payment options. That hesitation is causing a shift to digital payments, with the US mobile payment market expected to rise to $130.3 billion in 2020.
When the adoption of technology is accelerated so suddenly, it’s understandable that those vulnerable, older or even just reluctant and sceptical members of society aren’t thought about enough. The resultant fear of leaving vast swathes of people behind means we need a new touch-free payment solution that helps to comfortably and securely bridge their transition away from cash.
Who Fears the Transition, and Why?
The idea of digital exclusion isn’t necessarily a new concern. In the UK, Which? has long been calling on the government to protect cash as a payment option, knowing that its eradication could negatively affect vulnerable members of our society.
Despite the concept of going cashless advancing, as many as 27% of UK consumers still operate only in cash, while across the Atlantic, 70% of US citizens regularly use cash. Looking globally, research by the Global Index has explored the nascency of countries including India, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan in transitioning from cash to a digital banking system, finding that 1.7 billion adults around the world lack a bank account, while around 1 billion still pay their bills in cash.
Across the board, there is also a notable percentage of consumers who, while being banked, may struggle to maintain their financial independence. Old age or physical and mental health limitations can make the current transition difficult.
What if You Can’t Remember Your PIN or Your Online Banking Password, or Even Your Signature?
Banks must be aware that a wholesale veer away from cash isn’t going to suit or benefit all of their customers. They must therefore seek alternative options that still adhere to the trajectory towards touch-free payments while addressing the above digital exclusion challenges that some will face during this transition.
A Secure and Convenient Payment Option
Rather than making payment transactions a game of memory or self-controlled security, the banking sector should look towards the benefits of biometric authentication. When incorporated into a bank card, fingerprint authentication offsets the need to put people under pressure to note down, secure, remember and then input various passwords, PINS or usernames. Instead, biometric authentication, through fingerprints, automatically and categorically links a person to their finances in the most understandable and seamless way possible.
For retailers it would ensure that the evolution away from cash can continue seamlessly; also meaning they’re less likely to lose out on an entire segment of the customer base. But, more importantly, for consumers, it provides a more safe, secure, immediate and convenient payment method that balances the positives between cash and digital payments.
It’s an ideal balance that relieves pressure on the digitally excluded. Vulnerable members of society will firstly be spared from a growing need to invest in expensive smartphones or to learn complex digital banking features in order to carry out purchases.
Additionally, at a time where cash is potentially harmful to health, and equally at risk from a security perspective in the longer-term, they are able to make a safe step forward without any of the innovation headaches that might come with it.
The enrolment of biometric payment cards can even now take place remotely in people’s homes, making the transition even more seamless than the idea of extracting cash from ATMs.
Going beyond payments, biometric smart card solutions can also serve as the direct and unequivocal identification many would need to open a bank account, build credit and enhance their financial footprint, as seen in India’s Aadhaar biometric ID programme.
The Solution to a Prolific Challenge
As we move away from cash and towards a world of digital payments, biometric payment cards provide the ideal balance of security, convenience and hygiene for touch-free transactions, without having to rely on expensive smartphones, mobile banking, or PINs.
Banks and payment providers must now embrace biometric payment cards to provide consumers with a secure and easily accessible means of touch-free payment. In doing so, financial exclusion will be one less critical factor to worry about as we transition to a cashless society.