By George Webster
Poland’s cooperative BPS bank says it’s the first in Europe to install a biometric ATM — allowing customers to withdraw cash simply with the touch of a fingertip.
The digit-scanning ATM, introduced in the Polish capital of Warsaw, runs on the latest in “finger vein” technology — an authentication system developed by Japanese tech giant Hitachi.
The company says that an infrared light is passed through the finger to detect a unique pattern of micro-veins beneath the surface – which is then matched with a pre-registered profile to verify an individual’s identity.
“This is a substantially more reliable technique than using fingerprints,” Peter Jones, Hitachi’s head of security and solutions in Europe, told CNN.
“Our tests indicate there is a one in a million false acceptance rate — that’s as good as iris scanning, which is generally regarded as the most secure method.”
Unlike fingerprints, which leave a trace and can be potentially reproduced, finger veins are impossible to replicate, according to Jones, because they are beneath the surface of the skin.
“And before you ask, no — it doesn’t work with fingers that have been chopped off,” he added.
While the technology represents a step forward in reducing cases of identity fraud, Jones said that this is just one of many factors that have encouraged the Polish bank to adopt it.
“Here, banks have a responsibility to perform various social functions like dispensing welfare checks and pensions. These cause long queues at the cashier and many people find it inconvenient and even debilitating.”
BPS plans to install a biometric ATM at every one of its branches by the end of the year, where, says Jones — who has worked with the bank for over three years — they will also function as a collection terminal for state benefits.
Although it is a first for Europe, biometric cash points have been embraced in other parts of the world for some years.
According to business data analysts Bloomberg, the technology became particularly popular in Japan after the passing of legislation in 2006 that made banks liable for withdrawals by criminals using stolen or counterfeit bank cards.
The machines are also dotted around parts of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and even parts of Africa — where, according to banking analyst Stessa Cohen, they are preferred by rural workers living in remote areas, who are not accustomed to carrying bank cards.
So far though, the technology has failed to penetrate banking markets in the West. Cohen, who works for industry analysts Gartner, believes there are a number of data privacy issues that commercial banks have failed to address.
“If these banks are going to make biometrics an attractive proposition, they’re going to have to start being much more transparent about what they do with their customer’s personal data. They have to show that this type of sensitive information does not belong to them, but to us.”
For Jones, however, a driving force behind the lackluster uptake in most western countries is due to a dearth of commercial incentives.
The security and solutions expert believes that Poland’s early adoption of biometric ATMs reflects the country’s forward-thinking attitude to the role of information technology in society.
“It’s no surprise that Poland is the first in Europe. They are one of the most proactive at addressing the challenges of the information age. When they host the EU presidency in 2012, they want to say to the world: ‘Look at what we’ve achieved.'”