Citibank Debuts Biometric Pay System

Citibank Singapore is offering a new way for credit-card holders to make payments—using their fingerprints instead of credit cards.

Citibank this month began rolling out biometric payment systems in Singapore that allow Citibank Clear Platinum credit card holders to pay using their fingerprints. "It’s an investment for our future," said Anand Cavale, vice president and business director of credit payment products at Citibank Singapore, noting this is the first time the bank has used a biometric payment system anywhere in the world.

Before putting the biometric system into operation, Citibank officials took a long hard look at whether the system was secure—and came away satisfied that it was, Cavale said. "We see this as the next step, which will enhance our already good fraud prevention systems," he said.

With an affluent, tech-savvy population of 4.5 million, Singapore is among the most competitive for credit-card issuers, with many Singaporeans carrying three or four cards in their wallets. To encourage card holders to spend, banks regularly team up with partners to offer special discounts—say, 10 percent off dinner at a trendy restaurant—if customers use a certain credit card.

So much competition leaves banks looking for any edge they can find.

For its part, Citibank hopes the biometric technology makes payment more convenient for its card holders, eliminating the need for them to always carry credit cards while still allowing them to buy things. But don’t expect to see biometrics replace Citibank cards anytime soon. "The technology will be used in conjunction with a credit card," Cavale said.

Cavale believes biometric payments systems will shine in applications where a quick payment method is needed. "If you’re running to catch a train, and buying a cup of coffee and a newspaper, your time has more value," he said.

So far, Citibank’s biometric payment systems are in place at only a handful of outlets in Singapore, including local coffee shops and the popular Zouk nightclub. But the bank has plans to quickly expand the number of such systems and the number of Citibank card holders able to use them.

"Our intention is to roll it out very quickly to other cards," Cavale said.

Citibank chose to start the rollout of the biometric payment system with the Clear Platinum card because it is targeted at younger Singaporeans, ranging in age from 25 to 34. "We launched with this segment because the uptake is going to be very strong," he said.

Getting signed up to use the biometric payment system, provided by Pay By Touch of San Francisco, is relatively easy. Citibank has installed kiosks at several Singapore branches where card holders can register their fingerprints. To sign up, Citibank customers need to provide valid photo identification and a seven-digit numeric passcode used with the fingerprint to authenticate payment.

This is the first time that Citibank has tested a biometric payment system, and the bank’s operations in other countries, especially in Asia, are watching what happens in Singapore with interest, Cavale said. "Our plans include taking this technology around the region," he said.

-Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service (Singapore Bureau)

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