Will Future Payment Methods Get Under Your Skin?

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The abolition of cash due to new electronic payment options is on everyone’s radar. More and more banks are issuing contactless cards and the number of merchants accepting Near Field Communication (NFC) cards is growing steadily.

So, as part of the next step, why not shrink your credit or debit card and simply have it implanted as a chip in your hand or upper arm? It may sound like science fiction, but this idea has already been adopted by many ‘cyborgs’ worldwide.

Sascha Breite, Head of Future Payments at payment specialists, SIX Payment Services, examines the advantages and disadvantages of these chip implants and how this payment method might work in everyday life.

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To start with: chip implants are not a real trend yet. We are seeing a few enthusiastic ‘techies’ and innovators ‘self-test’ these implants, be it to try a new experience, demonstrate the opportunities in the payment world and also highlight the challenges that are yet to be overcome.

Are there use cases where a chip in the hand instead of an NFC card simplifies a process?

There are diverse areas of applications for implanted NFC chips. For example, consider opening doors to cars and houses, payment at the supermarket checkout, access to secure areas and also checking in and out of public transport. Chips could also be used to control the mobile phone, for example making it automatically perform certain tasks when the phone is being lifted, e.g., unlock or link to a loudspeaker. While this may sound convincing and indeed increasing usability, it is, of course, necessary for the appropriate infrastructure to be widely rolled out.

How safe are NFC implants?

NFC chips can store a variety of data such as medical records, account numbers, access or contact information. This data could be open to hacking, as — similarly with NFC cards — the implanted chip would only need to be in the vicinity of an NFC reader to be accessed. One could always add another layer of protection, such as entering a PIN number, like with any other NFC device. But unlike cards, watches or mobile phones, an implanted chip is difficult to be locked away in a safe when not used.

How flexible can chip implants be used

The current rate of technological development limits the possibilities for chips at the moment. Once implanted, the chip can be loaded with new data, but the simultaneous use for various applications and secure card payments is currently not possible.

Before being implanted, a chip would have to be programmed and personalized in order to work with VISA or Mastercard, which cannot be changed at a later date. In addition, the chip would expire — just as with ordinary cards — every two-three years, and the user would have to have their implant regularly removed and replaced.

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