It seems a security tech arms race is afoot in the banking sector.
While mobile banking has been going mainstream – 31 per cent of Canadians reported using mobile banking last year, up from five per cent in 2010 according to the Canadian Bankers Association – future trends point towards even more secure banking measures that recognize you (that’s right, you specifically dear reader) and your unique biological characteristics.
Bionic banking is here.
The Biometric Banking Experience
There have been previous forays into biometrics like Scotiabank subsidiary Tangerine’s announcement to add voice and fingerprint recognition to mobile banking, but the recent development from Toronto-based wearable startup Bionym ups the ante with heartbeat credit card authentication for RBC and MasterCard.
At the centre of the scheme is the Nymi Band, a watch-like device that measures a person’s heart rate and links their unique cardiac rhythm to their identity. Much like using a fingerprint, the tech offers a higher degree of certainty letting them use their cards without entering passcodes, provided they’re wearing the device. The wristband is activated when the user puts it on and includes an NFC (near-field communication) chip to communicate with contactless payment terminals.
“The Nymi Band offers a multi-factor security system,” says Kurt Bartlett, spokesperson for Bionym. “The ECG (electrocardiogram heart measurement) is also an internal biometric, so it is much more difficult to access than a fingerprint which is left on every surface you touch.”
A pilot run of the wearable banking project will see 250 RBC clients and staff pop on Nymis between now and February.
Banking To Your Own Beat
The little wristband has some big backing from one of Canada’s banking giants: RBC, which is looking to break into the ‘wearables’ market, has partnered with Bionym for the testing phase. “From the outset of our mobile journey, it has been critical for us to engage all stakeholders in the payments ecosystem with different technologies and options to better understand the payment experience from all parties,” says Jeremy Bornstein, head of payment innovation at RBC. “We’ve been watching the convergence of wearables and payments closely.”
RBC is also trying out its own devices – the RBC PayBand and RBC PayTag.
“The wearables aren’t yet available to clients, we are currently testing it with a group of 45 clients in the Toronto area,” he adds. “This is part of our ongoing efforts to understand how consumers want to pay and to stay ahead of the adoption curve.”
Those with heart health issues need not be left out – the authentication process will still work, says Bornstein.
“The band is designed to withstand health issues and even if the rhythm of the wearer’s heartbeat varies – for instance, during exercise – the shape of the unique ECG wave pattern is still recognizable and the device will still work,” he adds.
Not “If”, But “When”
While wearing a heart monitoring band won’t likely be mandatory anytime soon, on the retailer side the tech is already there. According to RBC, payments made in-store using a wearable will work anywhere that accepts tap or pay wave tech – which the bank estimates is 30 per cent of payment terminals in Canada.