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Biometric scanner lets you pay bar tab by giving the finger

Jay MacDonald

Should a new biometric scanner making its debut next month at a London nightclub catch on, you may one day be able to pay your bartender by giving them the finger.

No, not that finger, Einstein; your index finger! What did you think?

The breakthrough, pocket-size scanner with the catchy brand name FingoPay creates a unique biometric map of the veins in your pointer. Once your finger’s biometric map is linked to your credit card or bank account, you can theoretically wave goodbye to that fistful of plastic in your wallet, at least where that merchant is concerned.

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That’s the goal of Sthaler, the British startup behind FingoPay, as it takes its next step toward a card-free payment future by probing the pointers of the paying lads and lasses who gather at London’s Proud cabaret beginning in September.

Proud hopes to both speed up the waiting lines and link each payer’s tab to their FingoPay profile, giving barkeeps a means to suggest beverages to customers in the future. That should inspire more than a few Snapchat videos of overserved Proud patrons who vehemently abstain from sticking their finger into anything smaller than a bowl of crisps.

It’s not technically the first rodeo for this Hitachi-built vein scanner, which is already being used by Barclays to identify business customers and speed transactions at ATMs in Japan. What makes FingoPay different is that Sthaler not only has exclusive rights to market its scanner to retailers, but also has a couple potential bigs on the hook, including Britain’s Co-op Food stores and McDonald’s.

Biometrics in various forms have been bandied about for well over a decade as the error-free, no-brainer solution to the absurdly easy-to-hack magnetic stripes and who’s-your-granny PIN-demonium we collectively carried over from 20th century credit cards. Sthaler estimates the chances of two people sharing the same finger vein road map at 3.4 billion to 1. The same – or better – odds have been echoed previously by developers of fingerprint, iris, facial and palm scanners.

So what’s blocking adaptation? M-o-n-e-y. Merchants won’t spring for the gadgetry, nor will the card companies, and both have valid reasons why. Consumer disinterest also is a factor. The card payment ritual, seriously compromised as it is, is both familiar and surprisingly trusted by Americans, on and offline. Even America’s Marx Brothers adaptation of chip hasn’t slowed the use of plastic one iota.

It’s possible that phone-based solutions such as Apple Pay, which use smartphone fingerprint technology for personal identification, might have developed more traction had its roll-out not coincided with some eye-popping card hacks. When in doubt, we humans tend to default to the familiar.

Would U.S. merchants embrace a (relatively) low-cost FingoPay scanner if it a) reduced the fraud rate, b) sped up the checkout process, c) improved customer loyalty, and d) enabled finger pointers to one day unhook from card terminals altogether?

Only time will tell. Until then, keep your fingers crossed.

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