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They’re back: Biometrics were once touted as a failsafe security technology for financial payments.

They’re back: Biometrics were once touted as a failsafe security technology for financial payments. That was until a myriad of cost, privacy and operational issues reared their heads between the conceptual and implementation phases.

Biometrics make “know your customer” a “no brainer” But while you may know who your customer is, the question is at what cost. Also unknown is which biometric technology is best suited for a particular customer base. Also, to be determined, is how to capture and securely hold customer biometric data.

In the face of these and other issues, many financial institutions and providers simply gave up and settled for other, less problematic, security technologies, such as EMV.

However, as James Bourne, editor of TechForge Media, writes is the LinkedIN Payments group blog biometrics may be making a comeback, if something that has never been can come back.

Since 2011, MasterCard has been driving an interesting biometrics project in South Africa in partnership with the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). South Africans who receive social security benefits access those benefits on a SASSA Mastercard debit card.

The single debit card replaced a system which manually disbursed cash on behalf of multiple agencies to a recipient population equal to 1/2 the general population.

The Mastercard solution allowed for multifactor authentication, including voice print, finger image, and PIN. One time per month each beneficiary must perform a proof-of-life demonstration through a voice print or finger image in order to receive his benefit for the month.

Although this is a government benefit program, beneficiaries are mandated to sign up for bank account.

The SASSA project also requirers merchants who wish to accept the SASSA card as a form of payment to have biometric readers in place at their front-end in order to process SASSA transactions. The SASSA card is an open-loop network card with a restricted-access geographic limitation, meaning that it can only be used in a pre-defined region.

While the technology is costly, the government enjoys higher payment efficiency, payment accuracy, transparency, and dramatically lower cost of disbursement operation and reduction in payment fraud estimated at 3 million.

Beneficiaries enjoy faster delivery of benefits, increased benefit accuracy, increased security through the elimination of cash and the addition of biometric protection as well as achieving financial inclusion through the mandatory bank account.

Editor Bourn provides background information on biometrics and the financial services industry and also pimps last June’s Biometrics in Banking and Financial Services Summit, an annual event.