Biometrics are Mainstream in the Exhibition Hall, But Attendees Have a Limited Understanding
While it was a given in the exhibition hall, that biometrics are an integral part of digital transaction security in the financial services realm, the solutions offered are still far ahead of the customers’ perceived needs and in many cases, basic understanding. In a world where digitally-based fraud is exploding, the lack of urgency around implementing truly “human” identity-centric solutions in the broader financial services community remains disaapointing and somewhat unsettling.
The level of questions posed to the two extremely well attended biometric panel sessions on Sunday afternoon clearly indicated that while biometric market interest is soaring, market education remains a key consideration for the industry. Even in the sophisticated world of fintech, where there seems to be a new conference every week, the overall understanding of what a biometric is, how it works, what the real and distorted data management and privacy issues are, and how to differentiate between on-device and cloud-based solutions remains elusive to far too many.
“Frictionless” Customer Experience is the Holy Grail! (NOT) Biometrics were near universally heralded in the Exhibit Hall and many panel sessions as a key enabler of the “frictionless” customer experience – the apparent aim of nearly every vendor and financial services provider at Money2020. However, upon reflection as part of a deeper and more complex conversation about risk-based models, desired levels of customer feedback, and differentiating between identification and verification and on-device and cloud, most players admit that eliminating ALL friction is not really the goal. In fact, the real gaol is to determine and apply “the appropriate level of friction” based on the type of transaction, the value, and the risk involved.
It was easy for me to question my way with vendors hawking their “frictionless” wares to arrive at a clear understanding of what they actually meant. The typical conference attendee, however, would likely not have been able to make these distinctions and would be left with, at best, a misguided understanding of the true role for, and power of, biometrics. Again, even though it will make industry insider heads explode, I have just three things to say about this state of affairs: “Market Education, Market Education, and Market Education!”
Big Banks Are Slow Movers while Mid-level Banks are Not Convinced they have a Problem Biometrics Can Solve
Large banks and financial services organizations seem to clearly recognize they have a fraud and related identity problem that biometrics can help address. They appear committed to change, but incremental change that does not dramatically impact the overall market infrastructure, their position in it, or their existing physical and digital infrastrucure.
Meanwhile, mid-level banks that are structurally more flexible and therefore able to incorporate biometric-based identity solutions more easily and reap genuine rewards, remain skeptical. It is not clear if this is just typical financial services resistance to change, the inability to recognize the depth of the challenge they face, or just overwhelm in the face of technology that they are unfamiliar with.
It took forty years for ATMs to become mainstream – likely for similar sets of institutiaonl reasons. Unfortunately, established financial services organizations – large and small – don’t have the luxury of waiting forty years for the fintech revolution to take hold. Innovation is spreading across developing economies where urgency is high and barriers to adoption are either low or simply do not exist. In many of these locations biometric-based solutions are enabling the secure delivery of financial services to those previously unable to access them – the worlds’ more than 2 billon unbanked. These markets are living laboratories for biometric solutions that may very well radically reshape the global financial services market and potentially disrupt the existing major players out of their positions of dominance, or even existence.
Even as GDPR and PSD2 secure and reshape the European financial services ecosystem opening the door for digital innovation, the United States market, where many global leaders are based, seems ill prepared for the level of transformation and associated disruption that is happening now in the financial services realm.