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Tech & Processes

April 25, 2024

6 mins read

What’s the point of Biometrics in banking?

by Emmanuel Paul

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At Oyingbo market, Lagos, Nigeria,  the air is filled with shouts and the scent of fresh produce. You're there, hands full of groceries, heart racing as you reach the front of the queue. The seller is impatient, and you're fumbling with your phone, trying to open your banking app. But your PIN, what was it again? With people close enough to peek over your shoulder, the fear of someone catching your PIN adds to the stress. Then, you notice a fingerprint-shaped button on your screen. With a simple touch, the app opens. Relief!

You just avoided a minor mishap, but this moment shows how biometric technology is helping to keep your financial details safe. Gone are the days of relying solely on passwords you use on a million websites, or complex passwords you forget 2 minutes after you set it.  Now, something as personal as your fingerprint can ensure your financial transactions are safe. It's security based on who you are, not just what you can remember.

Beyond finance, this transition to biometric authentication is making our daily interactions with technology smoother and more natural. To unlock our smartphones, to speed up airport check-ins. We spoke with Tolulope, one of the product managers who built Monepoint’s biometric features, to dive into how this technology has evolved, how it works, and the benefits it offers. 

How we got to biometrics

Long before smartphones and the internet, people had to find ways to keep their belongings safe. At the time, the most advanced security was a lock and key, or a secret password only a few people knew. 

In the early days of banking, security meant a strong vault/safe and a complex combination lock. You confirmed your identity with a paper signature and relied on humans to verify. It was a simple time, but signatures could be forged, and keys could be stolen. 

As technology advanced, personal identification numbers (PINs), and passwords came around. With four digits or letters, you can now access your money. Transactions became smoother and “somewhat’ safer. Yet, we all know how easily we forget passwords,  kids or nephews/nieces easily guess passwords when we put in little effort, and it’s not safe from prying eyes or social engineers. 

We use something far more personal and unique to secure your device or finances. You. Your fingerprint, the shape of your face, your voice, or the pattern of your iris are very hard to duplicate or steal. Right now, biometrics are part of our daily activities and it’s become natural and intuitive.

Interestingly, the use of human features for identification dates back to 500 BC, when ancient Babylonians used clay tablets with fingerprints to record business transactions. In the 19th century, an employer used handprints to identify employees, and a French police officer used body measurements to identify criminals. Sir Francis Galton, created a detailed system for identifying fingerprints. In 1936, an Ophthalmologist, Francis Burch, first proposed the concept of using the iris to identify individuals, and Bells Labs designed a speech recognition system in 1952. The financial sector has followed this evolution. 

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Now, let's look at this technology more closely and explain why it's becoming indispensable in our daily lives.

How biometrics work

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Think of biometric authentication like your home's front door. Instead of using a key that anyone could copy or lose, it opens only at the sight of your face or the touch of your finger. It's as if your house recognises you and lets you in. Biometric authentication has two parts: “Bio” (as in “Biology”) and “Metrics” (as in rules and systems for measuring data, created by really smart people). 

This technology is based on a simple idea: everyone is unique. Just so we’re clear, here are the ways biometrics exist with fintechs today;

Fingerprint Scans: Perhaps the most popular on the list, fingerprint scans capture the ridges and valleys of your fingerprint. While you deal with the image of ridges and valleys at the tip of your finger, just know that every fingerprint is distinct. 

Voice Recognition:  It checks what makes your voice unique, like its pitch, rhythm, and tone.  Imagine it as a voice fingerprint, as distinct as your physical one.

Facial Recognition: This system maps the contours of your face, recognising the distances between your eyes, the shape of your nose, and the pattern of your facial features.

Signature recognition: Here, you don’t just get to sign. It looks at how you sign your name, focusing on pressure, speed, and stroke patterns.

Beyond these three popular types, we also have Iris scans, signature recognition, hand geometry, gait recognition, vein patterns, and DNA analysis.

What makes biometrics so useful?

Let’s face it: No one wants their device or bank accounts compromised, and biometrics offer a higher level of security. Banks and fintech companies, like Moniepoint, use this technology to ensure that it’s really you accessing your account. It’s designed to make transactions smoother and safer.

Fun fact: It will take just 0.19 milliseconds to hack a password you set as “password”. That’s faster than you can blink.

Fingerprints, for instance, are much harder to forge, steal, or guess than say, signatures or passwords. While it might take you a few seconds to type in what should be a complex password, Biometrics are almost instant. 

How we approach biometric authentication

At Moniepoint, we think banking should be easy, safe, and make you happy. If you’ve been following this series, you should understand that we balance compliance requirements, technology adoption and the customer’s needs. We’re customer-obsessed, we focus on time to delivery, and we have a technically capable team working on features like our biometrics.  

Without getting into technical details you probably don’t care about, we set up our biometric system in a way that reduces the chances of someone getting into a customer’s account. 

We took facial verification beyond taking a picture. You now have to smile or roll your head so the verification company can ensure you’re not holding someone’s picture in front of the camera. 

We also provide constant notifications so the user can see every activity, even log-ins, to spot when something is out of place. The result is we make it way harder for anyone to get access to your account. 

We also set up our systems to be as fast as possible. The benchmark for every transaction we do at Moniepoint, including biometric authentication, is the 100th millisecond. However, some services and APIs are running way below that benchmark.

We did this by making sure we bring in smart and skilled technical team. This team is free to evolve on their own with the company’s support in the background. As a result, we end up building a solid foundation, structure and the right database in a way that benefits the products and features we build. 

If you’d love to join us to build the future of secure digital payments in Africa, visit our careers page. See you in the next one!

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