HSBC launches "selfie pay" in China

HSBC has launched facial recognition on its mobile banking platform in China, making it easier and more secure for customers to make small money transfers.

All it takes is for customers to take a selfie.

“When customers need to initiate a RMB local payment to new payee, the facial recognition would be triggered. By simply blinking into the mobile phone using the selfie [mode], they can get their identity verified against a photo of them held in
the public ID database in China. The whole process of identification verification would only take about a couple of seconds,” Richard Li, executive vice president, HSBC told Computerworld Hong Kong.

Together with password, the facial biometric serves as the second factor authentication that allows money transfers of up to RMB50,000 (HK$59,000) per day to new payees through HSBC’s mobile banking app. A physical security token is no longer needed for such transactions.

HSBC is the first foreign bank in China to adopt facial recognition technology.

Given the proliferation of photos that are available online on social media networks such as Facebook, HSBC has ensured its facial recognition systems could not be tricked by manipulating an illegally accessed image.

“One key element in facial recognition is to ensure it’s a real person instead of a picture in front of the camera. The user will be asked to make some face movements or impressions, e.g. eye blinking, eyeball rolling, swing of head, randomly,” said Li.

“It is proven safe. According to the data from the laboratory, the mistake rate from facial recognition would be around 1 out of a million, while that for finger print is around 1 out of 50,000,” he added

Based on HSBC’s latest Trust in Technology global report, nearly 50% of people interviewed in China believe facial recognition to be useful, 16 percentage points above the global average.

“Chinese consumers are among the world’s most receptive to new technologies, and they also embrace mobile payments to a greater extent than their global counterparts. Official data shows that mobile payment users in China have grown rapidly, reaching 470 million in 2016 – a 31% increase from the previous year,” Li said.

“As such, we believe our mobile banking will be our pillar digital channel in China and it has been proven a success with our customers,” he added.

The use of facial recognition is not new in China’s banking industry.

China Merchants Bank has enabled 1,000 of its automatic teller machines (ATMs) in 106 Chinese cities since 2015 to dispense cash by scanning their customers’ faces. The Agricultural Bank of China this year also installed a similar capability on 470 ATMs in 16 selected branches in cities and provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces.

Customers no longer need to bring their bank cards, but just look into a camera where a pre-scanned photograph can be matched with the image scanned through facial recognition software for verification.

Furthermore, Ant Financial, which operates China’s largest mobile payment tool Alipay, already allows its 450 million active users to access their digital accounts by scanning their faces.

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