/ Money, Shopping, Technology

Just like that! Would you use biometric banking?

Payment tech

With all the talk of new technology and how it will change the way we manage our money, it’s easy to roll your eyes and give in to innovation-fatigue. But should we embrace the future?

At the end of last year I found myself battling both innovation-fatigue and regular fatigue – tired and hungry at an event hosted by Barclays to show off its latest gadgetry.

Sometimes it seems as if technology is used for the sake of it to reinvent a process that worked perfectly well in the first place. Nevertheless, the ideas with the potential to make our lives easier inevitably outlive the passing fads.

And at the Barclays event I was introduced to one gizmo that snapped me out of my lethargy. The bank has developed a biometric reader that scans the vein patterns in your index finger.

Biometric banking

Such patterns are unique, and Barclays believes they are more reliable and harder to spoof than fingerprints – offering a secure way to access online banking without the need for card readers and complex combinations of passwords.

There’s also voice recognition tech. The tech is capable of cross-checking over 100 identifiers that are unique to you and will apparently work even if you have a cough or cold.

As someone who struggles to recall passwords I’ve reset only a few days previously, I would jump at the chance to go biometric with Barclays. Alas, the readers are only on offer to corporate customers at present, although the bank assures me they’ll be available to us regular punters in the future.

Vein scanning may be a little too futuristic for now. But there are some more mainstream alternatives, such as Apple Pay and Barclays’ own bPay.

I wanted to bring Which? Money readers an article rooted in real-world experience, rather than a technology fest. So I asked our resident technophobe, Chiara Cavaglieri, to get to grips with the latest payment methods – with the help of some curious Which? members. Here’s how they got on.

Thumb prints and baffled newsagents

ChiaraChiara Cavaglieri: I trialled Apple Pay and, I have to say that, even as an Android user setting up Apple Pay on a borrowed iPhone 6 was largely stress-free… aside from difficulty registering my index fingerprint (I used my thumb instead).

When I tried returning goods, helpful cashiers in Boots and Marks & Spencer asked me simply to show my receipt and tap the iPhone to verify a refund with Touch ID – exactly as I did when I paid for the item.

But, when using it on London transport, Apple Pay is both the payment method and proof of payment, so I was aware of making sure the device was fully charged to avoid being hit with a fine.

And when I visited my local shop the newsagent was baffled when I presented the iPhone to pay for a paper. He insisted on a minimum payment of £5, which is annoying as I would specifically use Apple Pay for cheap purchases.

Overall, Apple Pay was quick and simple so I was sorry to hand the iPhone back. I can see myself using the equivalent when it becomes available.

Trying out bPay

Then we asked Which? member, Gloucester-based Sarah Beall to trial the bPay wristband and, although it was initially tricky to fasten, setting it up was simple. However, a visit to Marks & Spencer caused something of a stir for the cashier:

‘It was decided to place it over the payment machine and it worked immediately. The cashier then called over several other members of staff to look at the bPay bracelet.’

After giving it a go for a few days, Sarah found it quick and easy to use and now prefers it to her contactless card:

‘The fact you can wear it on your wrist, and don’t have to fumble around in your bag looking for your purse to get out your card, made it much easier to use. I will carry on using it especially as I am disabled and have problems with both my hands.’

So are you a fan of this new payment tech at all? Or do you think it’s a step too far?


I am cautious about change. With electronic banking, I waited until the terms and conditions were fair and not written in terms that could only be fully understood by a computer scientist. I was not an early adopter of contactless cards but now I use them regularly. I am still cautious about using a phone for financial transactions but my apathy is more to do with the fact that I have not felt the need.

My biggest concern about introducing easier ways of payments is not security issues but the risk that that convenient payment could encourage more people into debt. In the days of cash, the amount you could spend pubs and clubs was limited by how much you money you set out with but with card machines becoming commonplace it must be very easy to run up a large bill. I wonder if there has been an independent review to find out if making it easier to spend money contributes to the number of people living in debt. Maybe we need savings apps and wristbands to encourage the habit of saving.

I welcome anything that makes accessing protected sites easier; as long as it is secure. Finger prints as used on my iPhone seem to be convenient and secure . Voice recognition would also seem good.

I said to Siri: “Your money or your life”, the demand attributed to highwaymen. The reply was “OK”.

I get that Wave,,,,,,,,,,Take the money but please my eye’s in my head…………
I have not taken on the online line banking thing as I dont really have any problem as I am but I am wary of online anything
I remember being called by MBNA a few times about my CC use……………
The worst example was on one of those car manufacturer funded corporate thingys to a GP in Spain…………….
Because of the nature of such events we didnt have to buy anything and I dont avail myself of “evening entertainment” as is often the case there so I only used my CC in the duty free as we left to fill myself with cheap Brandy………..
I had no sooner landed in Stanstead than the call came in to ask me about a attempted transaction in Berlin…..
The software had been wary enough to know I could not be two places at the one time it seemed…………..
I told them I was in Stanstead and they nicely ask if I needed anything there before they stopped the card as such…………..I said no,,,stop it and send me out another…………..
The card was never out of my sight and the info had been got…………….
This was not the first time and I was wary about cards being out of my sight even for a second or two………………..
I do not trust on line anything………………I even feel reserved about writing here about my pet favorite Mr Ozzy……………..

The banks are desperate to get rid of cash. The whole business of circulating it, from cash dispensers to bank branches to pay it back in again is fearfully expensive. That didn’t bother them so much when it was earning a decent rate of interest for them while in their hands. Now interest rates are near enough zero the whole thing costs them dearly. Cashless payments are manna from heaven, because unlike cash they can even rake off a commission on every payment made. For me, not letting the banks leech any more from us than they already get away from us is a good reason to stick to cash for everyday spending.

As for biometrics, that’s yet more information about myself I’m not keen on sharing with all and sundry, nor do I want my newspaper or pint buying habits to be collected by the banks or Apple or anyone else.

Remember the advert, “American Express says more about you than cash ever can”? Cash says nothing about you.

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Liz S says:
21 February 2016

Succinctly put, Nick Davies

Whatever method is used someone somewhere will sooner or later find a way to beat it.it will not be secure for long

It’s intriguing. Just as we were told that by 1990 all offices would be paperless (remember “Tomorrow’s World”?) it’s long been hinted that we’ll soon be operating in a cashless society. Wonder how Ug would have felt about that as he cast about for a broken Boar’s tooth to add to his collection of freshly gouged eyes, assorted internal organs, bones and the odd vaguely attractive bit of stone which he would present to the potential Mrs Ug’s father in part payment for a new bride…

As highly advanced technology becomes ever cheaper and more widely available it makes sense that it’s integrated into our daily lives in ways that will make the everyday easier. Of course, there will always be those seeking to thwart the system in exactly the same way that Ug probably had to sleep with one hand wrapped around his assorted viscera, to ward off the unwelcome attentions of the Neanderthal equivalent of the Nigerian Prince. But easy access to one’s hard won fiscal heap also means that others will find the access similarly easy, so over time the complex password has evolved, the main joy of which is not only is it tricky to remember but constant hacking, infiltration and even carelessness on an Olympic scale has meant that our passwords are generally only safe for a relatively short time.

Various approaches have been aimed at making the various passwords secure but inevitably it remains a bind when existing passwords are purloined by evil-doers forcing one to create new and ever more complex passwords. However, one of the great delights (there are others…) of sexual reproduction is that, by and large, each of us is unique (okay; ignore that bit if you’re one of six sextuplets) so in effect a combination of our body parts is more secure than any password could possibly be. The other appealing aspect is that the device which reads these body bits doesn’t have to connect to the Bank in question: it can simply provide a code which can be used to verify your parts are your parts, so the thought of their collecting data about you should not be a concern.

So yes: Ug would doubtless have found it eminently easier to pay for his new mate by thumbprint reader of retinal scan. The only downside would have been the need to discover electricity first…

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“The bank has developed a biometric reader that scans the vein patterns in your index finger.”

Much as I like to believe all I read I was under the impression they had purchased the system. Of course Barclays and truthfulness are not something one normally thinks of ……

As for the ultimate security of voice and fingerprints I can recall being told that PIN was super safe uncrackable and informing my customers of this falsehood. I actually think there may be hope for the systems however the security of the information from tampering or being recorded by unfriendlies is not covered.

It is also a system that entirely ties you to a piece of electronics/power and cash remains the most failsafe payment system. The profit driven marketeers and hucksters of the banks and payment companies are really not the people on whom to rely are they.

S M Nisbet says:
21 February 2016

I really hate it when you click on a link and it takes you to ‘something completely different’ The bpay link takes you to Apple Pay – Annoying. as usual coders not even taking the time to visit/debug their own code.