Card machines are used for the current payment method. Banks will soon be able to issue credit and debit cards that store biometric data, allowing users to make payments and withdrawals using their fingerprints rather than their PINs. File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Johannesburg - South African banks can now issue debit and credit cards that store your biometric data and enable users to make payments and withdraw cash through fingerprints rather than a PIN.

Read also: What's your bank doing to keep you safe?

The Payments Association of SA (Pasa) announced yesterday that a new standardised specification to facilitate biometric authentication on payment cards had been developed in collaboration with Mastercard and Visa.

Pasa chief executive Walter Volker said this would enable card holders to use the cards at any of the country’s ATMs and merchants that support the technology.

Pasa has the SA Social Security Agency, which facilitates the payment of social grants to almost 14 million recipients, in its sights as the first potential entity to adopt the standard.

John Anderson, the head of industry payments at Standard Bank, said yesterday: “Standard Bank has embraced the use of biometrics in both Snapscan and the banking app and will work with the industry to adopt the payment card authentication standard as appropriate.”


Volker said, “As an industry, we are proud to have facilitated the world’s first truly interoperable biometric specification that will unlock the benefits of biometric verification and make it available to an open community in a way that is affordable, reliable and secure.”

He said although the use of biometrics in banking was not new, biometric technology was largely proprietary to a vendor, something that had been a major stumbling block to the adoption of biometrics across the banks.

“Up until now, there was no interoperable standard that was supported by multiple vendors. We hope the standard that we’ve agreed on will become a global standard. If that is achieved, our cards could be read in other jurisdictions.”

He said Pasa, which is the payments industry’s self-regulatory body, did not plan to make the standard mandatory but the adoption of the technology by the banks, which could still be years away, would be voluntary.

The new technology is aimed at preventing fraud and to make it easier for customers to pay securely.

The architecture that Mastercard and Visa have designed enables biometric forms, such as fingerprints, to be securely accepted by a biometric reader, encrypted and validated.

“To support wide adoption, it is important that solutions are scalable and based on open standards,” said James Simpson, the country manager for Visa in South Africa.

“Through this interoperable biometric verification standard in South Africa, we can connect a complicated web of players who operate with different rules and technologies,” said Mark Elliott, the division president for Mastercard SA.