Mastercard ditching PIN, soon we can use fingerprints to pay

20 Apr 2017

Mastercard. Image: 2Ban/Shutterstock

Innovation is never far from the fingertips of financial services, with Mastercard making the move to biometric cards. It’s bye bye, PINs.

The payments sector is one of the more saturated areas of fintech, especially when it comes to modern innovation. There are more start-ups working in this space than, say, savings or lending.

With that, Mastercard’s continuing investment into tomorrow’s solutions to today’s problems sees its latest tweak hone in on customers’ fingertips.

Just like a smartphone

Biometric scanning on cards will mean PIN codes, or the antiquated method of signing for payments, will be a thing of the past. That’s if the trials in South Africa prove their worth.

Customers will register their card with their bank and their fingerprint will then be converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card – much like how modern smartphones can be unlocked. The cards will subsequently be ready to be used at any EMV card terminal globally.

When shopping and paying in store, the user places the card over a terminal, while placing their finger on the sensor. The fingerprint is verified against the template and, if the biometrics match, the payer is successfully authenticated and the transaction is approved, with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.


The benefits here are obvious. With the card tailored to the user, security is upped significantly. It’s quicker, too.

However, that’s not to say these cards would be unhackable.

According to research conducted by Newcastle University in the UK, details of a person’s Visa credit or debit card can be obtained in as little as six seconds, using a technique known as a distributed guessing attack.

It would be crazy to assume all payments cards would suddenly be immune to such attacks with the simple inclusion of fingerprint authentication. That said, it would improve the security at a base level.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president of global enterprise risk and security at Mastercard.

“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.”

Big money

Mastercard’s investment in new technology never seems to wane.

As recently as this week, Mastercard added its digital wallet Masterpass to Facebook Messenger. This enables consumers to place online orders via the chat platform with just a few clicks.

According to MacRumours, the transaction process involves searching for and interacting with a Messenger chatbot to specify the order from a range of options. The user then arranges a pick-up or delivery location, followed by checkout confirmation, where they pay for the order via Masterpass.

Last year, Mastercard made a move for VocaLink, securing 92.4pc of the company for around £700m. The remaining 7.6pc remains in control of “a majority of VocaLink’s shareholders”, for three years at least.

Based in London, VocaLink operates key payments technology platforms on behalf of UK payment schemes. This means it provides the service behind direct credit and debit payments between banks, as well as direct account-to-account services between mobile purchases.

Mastercard. Image: 2Ban/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic