Banks are obsessed with selfie payments

By Kitty Knowles 26 May 2016

We just don't get it.

Young people like taking selfies, it’s a fact. Well lots of us do anyway.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to sign into your bank.

Why oh why, are banks so obsessed with the idea of selfie payment?

Selfie pay is not cool or hip

MasterCard is at the helm of the selfie pay movement, with security head Ajay Bhalla convinced that the “selfie generation” will think that it is “cool”.

As only a millennial can, I will respond to this with:


MasterCard want you to be able to pay at the cash register in the supermarket by taking a selfie. The bank, which already held a “Selfie Pay” pilot in the US and the Netherlands last year, plans to roll this out in 14 countries this summer, including the UK, France and Germany.

And MasterCard is far from alone in its efforts, with an an increasing number of companies working on new biometric procedures including challenger bank Atom Bank, retail giant Amazon and China behemoth Alibaba.

What’s the case for selfie pay?

Beyond the supposed zeitgeist factor, trailblazers back up the case for selfie pay as a matter of simplicity and security.

“Consumers hate passwords,” says Mr Bhalla, a statement we can probably all agree with.

They can be difficult to remember, fiddly to punch in, and the fact that many people use the same password for multiple purposes makes them inherently less secure.

With something like the MasterCard “Selfie Pay” app, users upload a picture, and then just snap themselves to login. In most cases the user has to blink or smile to stop crooks from simply photographing their image.

Selfies are not the only path to a password-free world

The things is, while passwords are a pain, selfies are far from the only answer.

When it comes to security and simplicity, surely a simple fingerprint scan is even better than taking a selfie. And we have that technology already.

One German security researcher, Jan Krissler, even found that moving a pencil over the eyes of a photo could, in some cases, be interpreted as blinking, which would mean that selfie pay is not as air tight as banks are making out.

Other banks are also looking into biometric features such as customers’ fingerprints or voices, or the blood flow in their fingertips.

Deutsche Bank, for example, has been experimenting with around 50 different factors from pressure applied to the pin-pad, to how the phone is held to improve security.

China introduced the first face recognition ATM a year ago, building the case for face scans at cashpoints. If an inbuilt camera could simply scan your face – without you having to get out your phone or bank card – that would be incredible.

But for now, while selfie pay still involves taking your phone out and taking a picture of yourself in public, fingerprints are a far superior option.

Yes passwords are dying, but selfies are not the answer.