When MasterCard wanted to pilot facial recognition authentication for smartphone payments, First Tech Federal Credit Union ($8.0B, Mountain View, CA) was a natural fit. After all, its 400,000-plus members hail from SEGs such as HP, Microsoft, Intel, CISCO, Amazon, Intuit, Google, and Twitter.
More than 200 First Tech employees are participating in the “Selfie Pay” experiment — and its fingerprint authentication counterpart — through October by randomly making contributions to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Brian Ziff-Levine, Director of Cards and Payments, First Tech Federal Credit Union
“The participants are all volunteers, using Android and iPhones,” says First Tech’s director of cards and payments, Brian Ziff-Levine. “We ask them to do as many as they’re comfortable doing, usually about five or six a day.”
To test the technology, the participants go to a donation platform on their phones and enter a PIN they’ve been provided. They select a donation level and then press “submit,” after which they get a push notification to authenticate either by taking a selfie or providing a fingerprint. It’s that simple.
“It took maybe 90 seconds to set up the app,” Ziff-Levine says. “The longest part was reading the terms and conditions.”
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The actual authentication — during which the app turns the fingerprint or selfie into data it checks against values for those same faces and fingers stored at a MasterCard data center — takes less than 60 seconds.
Ziff-Levine says participants executed approximately 4,000 face and finger authentications — including false data to test the software’s ability to detect and reject — in the first two weeks of the pilot. The app returned a success rate of approximately 97%.
First Tech and MasterCard introduced the idea for the biometrics pilot program at the White House Cyber Security Summit held at Stanford University last February. Agreeing to do it was a no-brainer for the credit union.
“We’ll never say ‘no’ to more security when it comes to payments,” Ziff-Levine says. “Plus, our members know technology and security as well as anyone out there. They’re among the first to learn about breaches and many of them are among the experts remediating them. They know as well as we do fraudsters always go for the weakest link, and we never want to be that.”
As the first financial institution, credit union or bank, to pilot the app, First Tech is asking employees about their experiences and sharing feedback with MasterCard to help bring a strong product to market when it’s ready.
“We love to partner with our partners and other technology leaders, and these pilots are really important,” says Carolyn Balfany, group head of U.S. Product Delivery for MasterCard International. “You can theoretically and technically understand these new technologies in a laboratory setting, but putting them in a setting like this is how we can understand the customer experience and how these solutions scale.”
We all have so many passwords to remember … But at the end of the day, you’re not going to forget your own face.
Simple, Seamless, Selfie Pay
The idea of the pilot is to make sure the authentication is simple and seamless. The importance of that ease of use even extends to its nickname — Selfie Pay.
“If we talk about facial recognition, the general consumer might not understand exactly what that is and might even be a little scared of it,” Balfany says. “But not when you say ‘Selfie Pay.’ That allows people to immediately understand it.”
The biometrics pilot follows on First Tech’s long record of going first with technology-based solutions. That includes chip-and-PIN for EMV credit and debit cards — considered more secure than chip-and-signature — along with payment innovations like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Google Wallet.
“Our members are some of the most technologically focused consumers on the planet,” First Tech CEO Greg Mitchell said in the August announcement about the pilot’s launch. “Being an innovator in the payments security space is evidence of our strong desire to meet our members’ unique needs.”
Some of those needs, however, are common to all consumers living in the digital world.
“We all have so many passwords to remember, passwords that are often getting longer and complicated,” Ziff-Levine says. “But at the end of the day, you’re not going to forget your own face.”