Are you someone who’s forgotten the pin for your credit or debit card with the usual embarrassing and inconvenient consequences? Thankfully, those days may soon be behind you. Because a card with a built-in fingerprint scanner is on the way. Izzie Clarke asked Angel Investor Peter Cowley to explain who's behind this work.
Peter - It's actually a company you probably haven't heard of because these products like this are all done by companies you hear with the consumer. It's a company called Gemalto, a Dutch company, a couple of billion turnover. Quite a big company and they're just introducing this initially as tech and trialling it.
Izzie - Where are we hoping we might be able to see this?
Peter - Well, they've trialled it in several places round the world but it's been announced that RBS and NatWest are trialling it just with 200 people just for three months.
Izzie - Okay. So not too many then! How does this actually work?
Peter - It's basically a card as I’ve got one in my hand and it's got a chip on it. You can't use it contactless because you need the power to run the fingerprint detector. So you're putting the card into the reader so then the power comes through from the reader itself and instead of putting your pin in, you've got your finger or thumb over the reader at the same time. So what they've done is to actually get into the card which is much less than 1 mm thick. The idea behind it is that you're using your fingerprint or your thumbprint instead of a pin. Now the advantage of that is that pins are obviously forgotten, as you say. My late father used keep his pin attached to his card - it's not a good idea. And also that the pin itself, you're probably not aware but the pin can be stored on the card but it also can be stored remotely so there's a possibility the pin can be intercepted. Whereas the fingerprint will be stored purely on the card in the same way as it is on your phone if you've got a fingerprint recognition on your phone.
Izzie - How secure is this though?
Peter - Well, this is a good question. In fact, I don't know if you're aware - Chris might be aware - that even identical twins do not have the same fingerprint. And it turns out it's because a level of nurture rather than nature i.e how long the umbilical cord is even, whether that fingerprint changes. So we are all unique, basically.
Chris - I was just going to ask you how the fingerprint scanner works because there are several ways to scan fingerprints, aren't there? There's just the mundane way of taking a picture which is pretty easy to fool, and then there's the way that most phones work which is they're measuring the electrical capacitance. But then there's this newfangled way which is it stores an ultrasonic measurement of the fingertip which is much hard to dupe, so which of these is it?
Peter - I suspect, and there's no technical information on the net about this, but I would suspect that it’s the capacitance one, because you got to get into such a small space. This is 0.75 mm so that's got to have both the reader and all the electronics behind it and all the wiring etc. So security, yes, it's likely to be much more secure than a pin.
Izzie - And, you know, cost-effective? How much does it add to the cost, say, of operating a card?
Peter - Again, they don't know yet because these are really small trials. But if you take a standard card it's about 10 or 20 cents to manufacture in big volumes. If you take it with a chip in as well it's 1 to 2 dollars, so it's going to be more than that. But the cost of actually distributing the card and the pin and everything else by the bank to people like us is a multiple again, so the card cost is likely to be more. It comes down to whether it's worth it for somebody. Now is it for the people who forget their pins or perhaps have some sort of issue with remembering pins. Chris, do you remember your pin?
Chris - I struggle because of I’ve got so many cards. Like passwords, because we’ve got to the point now where we've made passwords so uber complicated with 15 different types of special character, plus a number, plus a capital letter, a lock of your mother's hair and a DNA sample all wound into your password. You can't remember any of them so what do you do, you write them down. But the point I was going to make about cards, is this fingerprint business a sort of solution to a problem that we really haven't got any more because are cards are really going to be around? Do you see a long term future for cards because everyone is paying with phones and things?
Peter - Exactly. In fact, as you know, on the this program before I have an Apple watch and and because Apple have done a deal, in the same way that Google will have done a deal, I can spend several hundred pounds on my wrist. I use cash probably once every five or six weeks. I use my card only when it's, say, in one of the big supermarkets round here I will get stuck at £30 limit otherwise I don't. I think it's more going to be used by people who do have a problem with remembering pins so I think that will actually work. But how big is that subset of the population? And if it's related to age, they obviously get old and use less so if you take the sort of millennial going through, it may not be needed. So I think, it's probably and may be very unfair on the manufacturer, properly a piece of tech they’re trying to see if there's a market.
Izzie - And you said that it's going to be a small trial, so when is this coming and where?
Peter - It's coming in the next 2 or 3 weeks I think in the UK, but that it has been trialled around the world so they're obviously trialling it out. The tech probably works, it’s whether the market i.e. us want to adopt it.