BNP Paribas uses biometrics to increase contactless payment limit

BNP Paribas has brought forward a project to add biometric authentication to contactless payments as challenges brought by Covid-19 proved the technology’s worth.

The bank is rolling out a Visa card that can store fingerprint information. While customers will still be able to make contactless payments up to the spending limit without the fingerprint, they will be able to make higher-value contactless payments using the new card.

This is an example of financial technology (fintech) innovation being brought forward as limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are addressed by technology.

As the use of cash has plummeted amid the risk of spreading Covid-19 through handling cash, contactless payments have rocketed. In the first few weeks of the Covid-10 lockdown in the UK, cash withdrawals dropped by 60%.

Limits on contactless spending have been increased to enable people to increase take up during the pandemic, but this also increases risks to users as criminals target them.

In March, UK Finance, in close collaboration with retailers, increased the spending limit for contactless payments. The banking and financial services trade body said the spending limit for contactless payments would be increased to £45 from the start of April, up from the current £30. This mirrored similar moves across the EU.

Adding the fingerprint technology to secure payments and give users confidence to make higher payments.

Jean-Marie Dragon, head of electronic money and innovative payments at BNP Paribas, told French website BFMTV that the bank decided to complete the project earlier than planned. “This is a project that we had started before the coronavirus, but [the virus] has sped up the trend of contactless usage, so this product has become even more needed.”

Some £80.5bn was spent on contactless payments in 2019, according to UK Finance figures, but this year the figure will be significantly higher.

While BNP Paribas’s development comes at a time of urgent need, it will be valuable as the use of contactless payments inevitably accelerates after the current pandemic is over.

Major crises bring with them changes in consumer behaviour. For example, had it not been for the global financial crisis of 2008, many of today’s fintechs might not be around. It was a combination of traditional banks cutting back their services and consumers looking for alternatives that built an audience for fintech.

Once people get used to using alternative payment methods such as mobile wallets and contactless cards, they are unlikely to go back to cash.