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There were two headlines recently that arrived side-by-side:

Neither headline is particularly news – voice recognition for telephone banking and biometric bank cards have been floating around for a decade (or two!) – but it is interesting that we live in this ancient world of usernames and passwords, as I’ve blogged about regularly. However, it is interesting to see the march of biometrics into mainstream banking.

I’ve been involved in biometric banking for almost a quarter of a decade and still remember the Nationwide Building Society’s experiments with iris-recognising ATMs back in the 1990s. Here’s a short summary from The Guardian in 1999:

“The days of the PIN are numbered as computers learn to identify us by our fingerprints or irises”, writes Jack Schofield. “Soon a cash machine will look you right in the eye before it decides if you can have your money. The system works by photographing your eye and converting the patterns on the iris - the coloured area around the pupil - into a sort of bar code that's as unique to each individual as a set of fingerprints. Other machines may recognise your face, your voice, your signature, your smell, or the shape of your hand. All these are part of a rapidly-emerging market for computerised ‘biometrics’: the identification of individuals by something that is physical, unforgeable and unforgettable.”

Whatever has been written over the last quarter century, we are still using PINs, usernames and passwords, all of which were invented in the 1960s.


I guess it’s for two big reasons. The first is that the technology hasn’t been ready for prime time. When the iris ATM was trialled twenty years ago, customers hated it. They felt it was too intrusive and took too long. Equally, the number of false negatives (refusing to payout cash when incorrectly reading the iris) were too high.

Now, twenty years later, the technology is almost ready for prime time. You might like TouchID, FaceID and such like, as that has moved the game along.

In China, using your face-to-pay is now being trialled.

And this is something we are seeing more and more in every day use, such as at airports. It’s not even just biometric passports with face recognition, but face recognition to guide you to your flights even.

All well and good as long as the technology is nice and secure, which is still a challenge when there are so many hackers out there.

Either way, as we've been writing that PINs, usernames and passwords are so dead for over a quarter of a century, I wonder what we will be saying in 2045?

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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