The use of biometrics - our individual physical traits such as fingerprints, irises, faces, vein patterns, voice patterns and heart rhythms - is taking off as a means of providing access that is secure and increasingly convenient too. Applications in banking and finance, healthcare, security at national and organisational levels, and consumer technologies are all growing. The market is expected to grow rapidly to a global value of between$21 billion and $23.5 billion by 2020, with banking alone accounting for about $8 billion.
Biometrics are not infallible; nor are they usually used in isolation in security and access control. But they do provide a greater level of security as one of the ‘who you are, what you know, and what you have’ combination.
A number of factors are driving the uptake of biometrics: the increasing accuracy and speed of the various recognition technologies is perhaps the most significant. But so too are: the capabilities and use of mobile phones for a growing range of activities from banking to healthcare; the arrival of wearable technologies such as fitness bands, watches, glasses and rings; greater awareness of cyber-risks and high-profile thefts of personal data from companies; rising consumer expectations of ease, speed, accuracy and convenience in using mobile devices and mobile based services; ageing populations who are increasingly tech savvy, but nonetheless losing dexterity and eyesight. Regulation is also playing a role with the EU Directives around secure payment.
But geographically, uptake is varied. In Asia and a growing number of emerging market countries growth is rapid; in Europe and the US uptake has, till now, been slower. In Japan, some 15 million customers regularly use finger print or finger vein recognition to withdraw cash at ATMs. Poland is one of the first EU countries to install significant numbers of biometric ATMs, and Turkey has an estimated 3000 such ATMs. In North America the USAA already has 10% of its mobile customers worldwide using face recognition as part of their banking logon; accuracy is 100% on second attempt and popularity is rising.
Outside the developed world, the market opportunities may be greater. The spread of mobiles and smart phones, the lack of competing/ legacy systems, and the continued levels of illiteracy in some countries all make biometrics an attractive option for a range of applications. In India biometrics are being incorporated into the national ID card system, which will enable citizens to access a wide range of services, as well, it is hoped, reduce fraud. A major international conference in Africa in June 2015 will discuss the benefits of eID and biometrics for economic development, reducing corruption and service access. For example, the use of biometrics in the election in Nigeria is thought to have reduced fraud and corruption significantly in the recent election. In South Africa a growing number of banks are introducing biometric checks in branches and Standard Bank is launching biometric based services for customers.
A growing number of applications, within and outside finance, is emerging. The magic combination of reducing cost while increasing security, convenience and ease of use is likely to ensure further uptake.
Governments and government agencies already use biometrics in crime detection, but also passports and voter registration for identification purposes; so too increasingly could health care services and benefit systems, and hospitals to verify patients’ identities.
The sharing economy is likely to be a potential area of application, with some form of biometric identifier enabling access to car or bike schemes, or longer term to driverless car schemes; or any other form of high end sharing.
In the leisure industry, Disneyworld has already installed finger tickets, which can speed up entry but also remove the problems of lost tickets and passes. Concerts, leisure parks, VIP areas at events, all could apply such applications.
The Internet of Things is bringing connectivity, remote control and access to services, and to our homes and cars and offices. The projected 25 billion, 32 billion or 50 billion connected devices (depending on whose forecasts you use) present a potential security nightmare. Identity verification using biometrics on your fridge, TV, or car could provide an easier and more accessible form of security than expecting consumers to alter the default security setting buried somewhere in the system.
Any kind of customer service which requires telephone access or advice could improve customer experiences by using the recordings of calls, which often already occur, as a mean of verifying identify without the person needing to remember dates, numbers, place names etc.
Within organisations biometrics may simplify governance and record keeping, with more streamlined systems and procedures, thus improving the likelihood of people complying. Access to sensitive areas such as research facilities or records systems could be likewise protected.
In the developing world, just as access to mobile phones has already generated the mobile multiplier effect in terms of improved economic growth, so the addition of biometrics could further enhance and speed up access to finance, education, health care, fair elections, and reduced corruption.
But there are concerns such as privacy and unacceptable levels of intrusion. Others argue that biometrics, such as finger print access as used on iPhones, can easily be lifted and are therefore no safer than conventional approaches. But given that companies such as Apple and FAcebook are already using them extensively, and users are voting with their fingers and faces elsewhere, it is almost a case of trying to shut the stable door after the horse has boldted. That does not mean clear guidelines are not needed, they are, but the attraction of ease, conveneience and security is a powerful drive to uptake.