Money 20/20

Forget your password: Pay bills with a 'selfie'

The future of payments
The future of payments

Are passwords about to become obsolete?

Emerging technologies in biometrics are helping financial institutions and merchants free consumers from entering cumbersome passwords and PINs — a big focus at the Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas.

Acuity Market Intelligence projects that the global market for biometrics will surge to more than $117 billion by 2020. It's that kind of opportunity that's got some of the biggest names in finance, telecoms and technology excited about fintech.

MasterCard showed off its Identity Check — aka "Selfie Pay" app — that lets users verify their identity with their bank by snapping a selfie, saying a phrase or using a fingerprint. The company piloted the software with Mountain View, California-based First Tech Credit Union and Dutch bank ABN Amro in August — and plans to license it to U.S. customers by mid-2016 and internationally by 2017.

"I personally hate passwords," said Bob Reany, MasterCard's senior vice president for identity solutions. "We're making it better for consumers and safer at the same time. That's really the big change."

Harriet Taylor | CNBC

MasterCard is aggressively investing in biometric technology solutions, recognizing an opportunity to offer more secure payment options to clients and addressing a clear consumer pain point. According to a MasterCard survey, 53 percent of shoppers forget passwords more than once a week, losing more than 10 minutes when they reset their accounts. The result? More than a third of people abandon an online or mobile purchase.

Reps from MasterCard on the show floor demonstrated a variety of new biomimetic technologies the company is testing along with partners. Particularly interesting is The Nymi Band. The Canadian start-up has developed a proprietary technology that leverages the wearer's unique cardiac signature — otherwise known as your heart rate — as a biometric identifier.

"The next wave is going to be wearables," said Reany. "That's going from low friction to no friction. That's really a sea change."

"By working with partners like TD and MasterCard, we are effectively demonstrating that continuous authentication can be a more secure and convenient way to make retail payments," said Karl Martin, Nymi's founder and CTO, in a press release.

The big focus at Money20/20 is, of course, payments, but the opportunity extends far beyond. The Nymi wearable bands could in the near future be used to unlock homes, cars, even ATM machines. With the "Internet of Things" projected to connect 25 billion devices by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020, according to Cisco, this is a growing opportunity.

Gordon Smith, JPMorgan Chase
The latest in the battle to own your digital wallet
Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures
Money2020: Where tech aims to reshape banking

Another company getting a lot of buzz at the conference is start-up EyeVerify whose backers include Wells Fargo, Sprint and Samsung. EyeVerify has developed cutting-edge technology that uses the camera on a smartphone to take a photo of the eye and create a totally unique secure "password" based on the blood vessels in the whites of the eye. Like a fingerprint, those patterns are unique to each and every person. It then uses the imaging and pattern matching of those vessels to authenticate a person's identity.

"What's unique is you can just use your phone. It's just software and that makes it particularly attractive to banks," said Chris Barnett, vice president of global sales and marketing at EyeVerify.

The company has signed deals to license its technology to Wells Fargo and RSA and its technology is already in use. EyeVerify's big selling point is it's high level of security. The company says independent surveys, including one by the University of Missouri and another by a Chinese mobile payments company, found its technology to be just as accurate as Apple's Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor embedded on all new iPhones, and Google's new fingerprint accuracy requirements.

"The industry is booming and fintech is right in the heart of things," said Peter O'Neill, president of findBiometrics, the industry's leading online publication. O'Neill moderated a session here at Money20/20, which was the largest gathering to hear a biometric session outside of a pure biometric conference. "Last year there were 300 in the room, this year there were 600 — it was packed — that gives you an indication of what's happening to our industry." The catalysts, according to O'Neil are convenience, security and mobile.

Correction: Bob Reany is MasterCard's senior vice president for identity solutions. His name was misstated in an earlier version of this article.