Barclays to Launch Finger Vein Authentication

Barclays is to be the first UK bank to introduce scanners that identify customers by their fingers’ unique vein patterns, as it steps up efforts to protect against cyber crime and fraud.

The bank plans to offer biometric finger vein readers to corporate clients from next year, in return for a fee. They will be able to access their online bank accounts and authorise payments quickly without needing to use a personal identification number (PIN) or password.

Vein technology, which has already been introduced in countries such as Turkey, Japan and Russia, is regarded as superior to PIN numbers and passwords for corporate accounts as the numbers may be shared among employees in treasury departments.

However, some banks have been reluctant in the past to use biometric technology due to legal and ethical concerns about the use and storage of such data. “We did not feel comfortable with fingerprint technology in the corporate space, where clients are moving tens of millions of pounds,” said Ashok Vaswani, chief executive (CEO) of personal and corporate banking at Barclays. The bank is now seeking to assuage such concerns.

Liz Fitzsimons, legal director and data privacy expert at law firm Eversheds, suggested that Barclays’ move could be hindered by proposed data protection regulations.

“Use of fingerprint technology for security purposes is already widespread but not – save in certain limited cases – regulated any more than the use of other personal details,” she commented. “With the promise of greater simplicity and security, the use of finger vein data technology will give rise to additional regulatory concerns.

“Regulators believe such use involves increased privacy intrusion and carries greater potential risks. The new draft Data Protection Regulation proposes to add such biometric data as a category of specially protected sensitive details, making conditions on their lawful use more demanding. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on proposed use of such technologies.”

At the same time, digital financial services provider Intelligent Environments said that a survey showed 79% of Britons are ready to ditch their passwords in favour of biometric security measures like fingerprint scanners.

“iPhone 5s sales of more than 10 million have helped contribute to a major shift in consumer attitude toward biometrics, as consumers become used to its intuitive Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which is predicted to be incorporated into iPads shortly,” the company commented.

Fingerprint technology was voted as the most popular biometric method according to the company’s future password index, which indicated that 53% of UK banking customers want their banks to integrate fingerprint scanners into their digital banking services.

The least popular method was found to be voice recognition, popular with only 27% of customers, despite Barclays’ recent announcement it will be introducing the technology into its telephone banking service over the next year.

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