NCR Corp. said three European banks have agreed to test eye-based biometric technology from Sensar Inc. at their automated teller machines.

The system, based on the iris-pattern recognition patents of Iriscan Inc. of Princeton, N.J., has been demonstrated at a Swindon, England, branch of the Nationwide Building Society for the last six months.

The passive iris-scanning process takes a few seconds and obviates the need for the cardholder to enter a personal identification number.

NCR said Banco Ambrosiano Veneto of Italy, Den Norske Bank of Norway, and Akbank of Turkey will also be doing pilot tests.

Per-Olof Loof, senior vice president of NCR's financial solutions group, said he regards iris identification as "the easiest, most secure, and least obtrusive system of its kind."

He said he was "thrilled" that the three banks, market and technology leaders in their countries, had signed on. "I am sure that, like Nationwide, they will find their consumers eager to use iris identification," Mr. Loof added.

NCR and Sensar produced survey results from Swindon showing that 91% of customers preferred the iris method over PINs or signatures, 94% would recommend it to friends and family, and 94% rated themselves comfortable or very comfortable with it. The system scored near-unanimous approval in reliability, security, and acceptability.

Nationwide Building Society chief executive officer Brian Davis said he is not quite ready to put Sensar devices in all 680 branches, but "as more organizations throughout the world recognize the benefits of iris recognition, the costs will fall, and I hope we will be in a position to proceed when the time and price are right."

Contributing to an apparent bandwagon effect were Sensar agreements with Olivetti Wang Global and Siemens Nixdorf to distribute the technology in Italy and Germany, respectively. Banco del Salento and Dresdner Bank have joined the piloting list as a result.

In November, Sensar said it had obtained $28 million in investment capital from a group consisting of Citibank, J.P. Morgan & Co., Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Kecalp subsidiary. And at the Retail Delivery '98 conference in Las Vegas this month, Moorestown, N.J.-based Sensar introduced an identification system for bank teller stations that requires no card or other means of verification.

Because the system actually recognizes customers rather than just verifying their identity, Sensar president and CEO Thomas J. Drury Jr. said, "the era of having to prove who you are the minute you walk into a bank is finally over."

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