Will That be Cash, Face or Voice? Reactions to Biometric Mobile Wallet Payments

mobile wallets

The iPhone X uses Face ID technology to unlock your phone. Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home respond to your voice. Biometrics—measurements of your body and expressions —are everywhere and spreading, but they are divisive. Some people embrace them as the future. Others worry about privacy and surveillance. And some are not quite sure what is going on.

When we looked at how biometric features such as facial and voice recognition impacted interest in adopting mobile wallets, we found a similarly divided picture—but we did note that voice recognition has a slight advantage over facial recognition.

To understand the potential for biometric identification we need to look to China. “It is possible to transfer money through Alipay, a mobile payment app used by more than 120 million people in China, using only your face as credentials. Meanwhile, Didi, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, uses the Face++ software to let passengers confirm that the person behind the wheel is a legitimate driver,” according to Will Knight. In China, you can also pick up a rail ticket, gain access to your apartment or workplace, and pay to visit attractions, using facial recognition.

But the U.S. is more divided on facial recognition. A recent poll found that 34% have a favorable opinion of facial recognition in personal devices. Another 39% felt unfavorably toward them, while 26% didn’t really have an opinion.

As part of our ongoing MoneyScreen test of innovations in the payments space, we have looked at mobile wallets in depth. In the most recent research, we dug deeper into where biometrics fit in as a security feature for mobile wallets. We tested consumers reaction to concepts for generic mobile wallets, as well as mobile wallets with identification features such as geolocation, voice recognition and facial recognition.

Overall, the addition of facial and geolocation safety features did not make a large difference to interest in mobile wallets—interest in use was basically the same with or without the features. Voice recognition, however, had a somewhat higher level of interest, particularly among millennials. This is the same cohort that is leading the charge on the use of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google’s Home, so it makes sense that voice recognition would be a more natural fit.

While biometric fraud protection is not exciting large numbers of consumers now, that does not mean consumers feel fraud protection is unimportant. In a piece from last Fall by my colleague Demitry Estrin, he reported “when we examine the last 50 payment concepts evaluated in our MoneyScreen research, based on consumer rankings, three out of the top five spots are occupied by products that emphasize advanced security and fraud protection features.”

While adding biometric or geographic safety features result in interest levels remaining similar to an offer without these features, that does not mean that these features have no effect. In fact, what appears to be happening is that they attract some people, while they repel others. On the positive side, some feel reassured by the additional safety. On the negative side, some see these as awkward-to-use fad features that might be here today, but gone tomorrow.

But if we look to China, it is quite probable that facial, voice and geolocation features are more likely to be the future, rather than a fad. We know that many financial firms, in the U.S. and around the world, are testing innovative ideas for biometric identification. They are right to do so because, as facial recognition and voice recognition become more widely used in all aspects of daily life, it is likely perception of their use in financial services will change. And we’ll be tracking it.

This look at biometrics is just one small element of recent learnings from MoneyScreen, our ongoing study of more than 30,000 Americans and financial services innovation. Check out this infographic to learn more about things like attitudes toward credit card fraud and paying with your car. Or these articles on travel rewards, cash back cards, fraud protection and payment innovation.

To learn even more, engage with our team, who are pioneers in mapping the ever-changing financial services landscape, and hear about the trends and stories that we are uncovering. Just contact us to arrange a meeting.