International Biometric Group, intent on raising the visibility of its new-age identification technologies, is taking its pitch directly to the Street.
The six-year-old biometric consulting firm has opened a ground-level store near Wall Street in an attempt to familiarize more financial institutions with the techniques available for identifying people through their physical or behavioral characteristics, including fingerprints or voice scans.
Pretty much every financial institution is considering biometrics for some application, said Samir Nanavati, a partner in the firm. IBG is working with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Visa International, and Fidelity Investments on biometrics projects. Deutsche Bank has been using finger scans for entry to its computer server rooms for about 10 years, he said, and Citibank has been using hand-scanning devices in its server rooms for about as long.
The BiometricStore, the only independent biometric showroom in the world, is an attempt to bring biometrics to Wall Street, said Mr. Nanavati. Clients in industries ranging from banking to construction to retail can try out biometric technologies from about 50 providers.
In the center of BiometricStore, a kiosk displays units for signature verification, keystroke and voice identification, and finger, eye, and facial scans. Employees demonstrate how to use them. For the finger scans, visitors are told to run a fingertip over a device the size of a computer mouse. The image of the fingertip shows up on a computer monitor, enrolling the user in the system. The finger is then run across the device again, and a smiley face pops up on the monitor, confirming the users identity in a matter of seconds.
Finger scans are probably the best selling of anything out there, IBG associate Jake Hong said. Theyre definitely the easiest to use.
Behind the kiosk is a row of devices that let users unlock a door with an accurate reading of a hand or eye. Nearby is a line of computers, which are used for the biometric applications testing IBG conducts for its clients.
Over the next few months, 240 consumers will evaluate 10 biometric technologies in IBGs third round of testing; the first was completed in 1999 and the second finished up last month. Sponsors of the testing include Star Systems Inc., an electronic payments network, and the Financial Services Technology Consortium, an industry group that funds research and development. Companies that prepay for the test results can help choose the technologies tested.
Technology company InnoVentry Corp. and Diebold Inc., a manufacturer of automated teller machines, last year announced a partnership to begin selling check-cashing machines that use facial scans to authenticate customers. The machines are now being used in several states, including New York.
Biometric applications such as hand scans and retina scans have been around since the late 1970s, Mr. Nanavati said, but it is only now that their security uses are beginning to catch on. Long plagued by doubts about their accuracy, biometric devices, he said, showed dramatic improvements in the 18 months between the start of IBGs first round of testing and the completion of the second phase.
The cost and size of biometric devices also improved, Mr. Nanavati said. Iris scan devices that two years ago were the size of a refrigerator are now the size of a phone handset. Finger scan devices, which cost $3,000 five years ago and were the size of a shoebox, are now $100 and no bigger than a computer mouse. IBG predicts that sales of biometrics hardware will increase from $58.4 million in 1999 to $594 million in 2003.
But biometrics are not for everyone, Mr. Nanavati said. When IBG associates meet with clients to determine if biometrics fit their needs, they frequently conclude they do not.
Mr. Nanavati said one client, the owners of a Manhattan high-rise, had wanted a biometric system to secure the entrance. The residential building already had a doorman and a concierge, which IBG advised was an easier and cheaper option. The compromise was to install a biometric device at the buildings rear door.
There are cases where it just doesnt make sense, Mr. Nanavati said. We probably tell a quarter of our customers not to use biometrics.
From Our Archive