Recently IT News Africa caught up with Xavier Larduinat, Head of Banking and Payment Innovation at digital security company Gemalto.
Xavier is in charge of promoting Gemalto as a leading digital security company, with customers in over 180 countries. The company’s goal is to bring trust to an increasingly connected world. Their technologies and services look to enable businesses and governments to authenticate identities and protect data so they stay safe and enable services in personal devices, connected objects, the cloud and in between.
IT News Africa spoke to Xavier about the challenges of biometrics in Africa, the countries leading the drive to biometric adoption, government’s role in adopting biometrics and how long this process could take.
1) With biometrics singled out as the future of payment verifications what challenges does Africa face in implementing this?
There are many sources of biometrics fingerprint, iris scan, facial recognition and so on, nobody can tell you which one will work in which markets, so you need to find out the consumers choice and which system they will be more comfortable using. So you have to tune it to every market.
African countries face the same problems as many other countries. Privacy protection is key, so how do I prove that even if you lose your phone your data is safe and people can’t use your biometrics for something else, like going to the ATM for example. So how do explain security to consumers, how do I make you feel comfortable when using it? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
2) Which African country do you think is best suited to kick start this revolution?
South Africa, the view from France and Gemalto is that South Africa is a leading country when it comes to telecoms and innovation within banking. The state of the art use of mobile banking contactless cards and so on proves that the country is at the edge of banking not just in Africa but worldwide. I feel that this provides room for the adoption of innovation. Everyone that I have met is very much aware of the benefits of biometrics. Although there are six countries of focus for us at Gemalto, which includes Morrocco and Nigeria, South Africa is very much leading this focus.
3) Is maintaining a large database necessary for biometrics?
There is something very important to understand here. There are two strategies that can be used for managing biometrics data of customers. The regular application where you have a central data base with all your citizens, this is what exists today, you can secure it or you can give others access to it.
In the commercial world, it’s a different picture as people now start to use biometrics. The other strategy that we are pursuing so far to protect people from liability risks is to say we are not going to manage a central data base of information but rather each customer will have their own biometric information on their secure mobile device and in their possession, this is a dispersed data base strategy.
Governments are using state of the art technology to protect your information in the cloud, where they can provide people with an API to verify transactions and identity. So while we wait for governments to give commercial access to their data base, the dispersed strategy seems to be the best fit for now. The data base strategy and dispersed one will co-exist in the future but for today, the dispersed strategy seems to be the dominant one. But you could anticipate that in 5-10 years governments could offer a service to banks where the API will provide access to the government’s data base to provide identification verification.
There is a completely different market between commercial and government application of biometrics at the moment. The key aspect to note is that biometrics looks to make payments secure, convenient and comply with policies which would benefit all.
4) Has cybercrime had a negative impact on biometrics?
It is actually the opposite. While everyone understands that cyber crime is big, very few companies have actually taken steps to protect their data and people are starting to realise that if you lose this data your company could collapse. Given the fact that people now want to use biometrics, it actually reinforces the idea that we really need to protect our information.
Your phone for example just used to be a device for communication and games, now that is changing and soon it will have all your biometric information on it. But what happens if you lose your phone? So we need to build security inside the phone to manage your precious data. There are many ways to store and secure software on your phone. This is what we do for banks, we provide the complete and secure platform from your phone.
The vision of Gemalto is that in the future that your wallet will be digital, everything from bank access to identification will be on your mobile phone and accessed through biometrics.
5) How long do you think this biometric adoption in Africa will take?
I used to think that it would take a long time as people’s perceptions around biometrics would have to change, but I have been amazed by the acceleration. The millennials grew up using advanced technology, so unlike generations before them, they are more open to new technologies. I anticipate a huge acceleration, biometrics will be everyware, 5 years from now everything will look different and use biometrics.
By Dean Workman