Iris-identifying automated teller machines are a big hit among customers at Bank United Corp., the first U.S. bank to pilot the eye-scanning technology.
Touting a 98% approval rate among 130 pilot participants surveyed, Ron Coben, executive vice president of community banking, said Houston-based Bank United is likely to adopt the iris recognition technology of Sensar Inc. for all of its 75 walk-up ATMs in Kroger supermarkets.
The technology identifies customers by taking a picture of the iris, digitally encoding it, then comparing it with one already on file. Fourteen banks in eight other countries are testing Sensar's products for customer authentication.
"Consumer acceptance of iris recognition and Bank United's 'EyeTMs' is now a fact," Mr. Coben said.
Moorestown, N.J.-based Sensar, which has exclusive rights from Iriscan Inc. to market iris identification in the financial services industry, competes with deployers of other biometric technologies such as facial and fingerprint recognition.
Thomas J. Drury, Jr., president and chief executive officer of Sensar, said the iris is "hundreds of times more unique" than a fingerprint, let alone a face. Iris recognition eliminates the need for a card and provides more security than a personal identification number, he said. Yet that is just a side benefit. "This is not about security, it's about customer service," Mr. Drury said.
In May, Bank United installed the system at three of its 152 ATMs and it has enrolled about 700 participants. The upgraded EyeTMs are inside Kroger stores in Houston, Dallas, and Forth Worth.
According to the recent survey, about half the participants said they liked best that the machines do not require an ATM card. They thought the machines were "futuristic" and "cool," and some cited the new technology as a reason for moving their account to Bank United.
The machines were made by North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Inc., which has integrated the Sensar software. The iris-identification unit, which attaches to a regular ATM, is priced around $5,000.
"Anybody that has a Diebold ATM can use biometrics very simply," said Toni Portmann, Diebold vice president.
The enrollment process takes about 30 seconds, and the technology can be used to give customers access to accounts through ATMs, tellers, and the Internet. Four bank teller software providers - the Broadway & Seymour group of Science Applications International Corp., Fiserv Inc., GetronicsWang, and Unisys Corp. - have agreed to showcase Sensar technology to financial institutions around the world.
"Now, customers who bank with tellers will never have to prove who they are before they get service," Mr. Drury said.
Sensar has pilot tests under way through NCR Corp., Siemens Nixdorf, and Fujitsu ICL, and is seeking to work with other vendors in the financial services industry. Innoventry of San Francisco, a deployer of self-service check-cashing machines, says it uses face recognition because it is the least intrusive of the biometrics. But Innoventry is on Sensar's "radar screen," Mr. Drury said. "We see a very significant opportunity in the unbanked check-cashing market."