Interview: Visa Europe’s Jonathan Vaux on generation gaps and biometrics
10 February 2015 15:54 GMT

Younger people may be more ready to adopt biometric payments than older generations.

By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

A major Visa Europe study in January found that 76% of 16- to 24-year-old Britons would be comfortable making payments using biometric security such as fingerprint, iris or facial recognition. In addition, 69% believed biometric transitions would make their lives faster and easier.

The sizeable majority suggests that a so-called “generation Z” is far more ready than older groups to adopt – and trust - newer payments methods as mobile and contactless transactions emerge as the next big thing. But is it that simple?

Planet Biometrics caught up with Jonathan Vaux, Executive Director at Visa Europe, to discuss the survey’s findings and how his firm believes payment technology will evolve.

What trends does Visa expect to see as digital identity evolves to include aspects like biometric authentication?

Part of my role is to ensure Visa is at the top of any app, any wallet or device. I think today we see a market that is very fragmented. Most card-on-file solutions are mostly closed loop, so there is a number of things we need to do.

Firstly and most importantly, irrespective of those various use cases, is to make sure that Visa is the easiest and safest way to pay. This is an area where biometrics have a huge role to play – in helping authenticate the customer in as painless and frictionless a way as possible. Because biometrics make the payment much, much easier.

Another area is providing a degree of standardisation. Irrespective of the channels what I see happening is that consumers will consolidate their data and use things like their mobile banking app to manage that money.

So irrespective of whether I purchase in-store, online, whether I purchased using my phone - whatever the token, device or scenario – there is a way of consolidating that data. And that becomes part of the experience.

We want to make sure that customer experience is great, and provide services pre- and post-payment that make the customers feel safe and secure.

What are some of the advantages that biometrics could present to merchants?

Well firstly, there tends to be a desire to latch onto just one form of authentication. The fact is that increasingly there a combination of factors, of which biometrics will be just one.

I think that biometrics are one of the quickest and most convenient way for customers to validate themselves. Something like Touch ID is quicker than typing a PIN and in some ways less intrusive.

That isn’t to say that biometrics should be the only factor. Most likely you’ll see a combination of factors like device ID, geolocation, previous spend history – all being used to make sure that the likelihood of any step up authentication at purchase is minimised.

By now, many of us have used “on-click” purchasing online and will be looking to have that kind of seamless experience at the physical point-of-sale. The key is avoiding any embarrassment for the customer, as we have found that is often the single-most important element – customers want to be confident that they can just authenticate themselves.

What were some of the most meaningful findings in the survey?

It confirmed our historic research which has shown that, as people get older and their financial responsibilities grow, the balance of convenience versus security may change.

For example, I’ve got a 13-year-old son, and for him this sort of new technology is just ingrained. It is different for even a slightly older generation - for us passwords and PINs are far more the norm.

Often the most effective forms of authentication are almost subconscious – the reality is that a four-digit PIN at a checkout is something I do not even need to think about. If new technologies want to see mass adoption, they will need to be just as convenient and become ingrained in everyday behaviour.

This is why I become so excited about things like the London Underground using contactless technology. If people are using contactless everyday, it becomes normalised, habitual behaviour.

How do you feel about the inroads Apple Pay is making in terms of achieving frictionless payments?

What Apple Pay has done well is consolidate a lot of pre-existing technology that has been out there for some time. While putting a wrapper round it in a way that makes a compelling experience for the consumers.

With payments, those players who have focused on improving customer experience and who’ve come up with propositions that are noticeably better have gained market – and that’s a lesson for everyone operating in the financial space.

People will use different technologies depending on the use case – if its still the most convenient to use my plastic- that’s fine. Behaviour and attitudes change also depend on the device people are using. People will use their phone for immediate purchases where speed is of the essence. If Im buying a holiday, I’m more likely to go on a large screen and browse.

 

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