The human body is capable of amazing things: Our eyes can distinguish 10 million colors, our nose can distinguish 1 trillion smells, our body itself can grow nearly nine feet tall, and, today, thanks to the pioneering work of one California credit union, it can now act as a form of payment at most major merchants.
Corpus Hominis Federal Credit Union ($130.6M, Oakville, CA) is working to make physical payments (in a manner of speaking) a thing of the past with its Full-Bodied Authentication (FBA) program.
“We talk about ‘The Future Of Payments’ all the time in our business,” says CHFCU CEO Chet Kirkus. “Then Apple comes out with a titanium credit card and people lose their minds. It could have created its cards from wooly mammoth tusks and it wouldn’t have been any less innovative. This is innovation.”
Members Are The Technology
The United States is gearing up for the next advancement in payments technology – the widespread adoption of contactless payments.
More than one-third of all transactions in the U.K. are contactless. Such payments are far less common in the United States, but the times they are a-changin.’ Chicago’s mass transit system already accepts contactless payments, and New York, Boston, and Miami will rollout contactless payments technology by the end of 2019. And according to Mastercard, 65% of U.S. merchants will accept contactless payment methods by then, as well.
But the industry will be playing catch-up to CHFCU’s FBA.
The credit union’s program is simple in design and execution: Interested members ingest a pill that maps their physical musculature and typical behaviors – from ear lobe diameter to alpha-keratin levels in a fingernail; how weight is distributed while walking to a resting and active heart rate. This musculature mapping allows the credit union to build an exhaustively complete and 100% verifiable member profile.
“It’s taking wearables to the next level,” Kirkus says. “Except members don’t have to wear anything – they are the technology.”
Pill ingested, members become a walking and talking form of authenticated payment, at least at several hundred participating merchants and sports stadiums. There’s no POS system involved here. Rather, members walk into a store (through special doors equipped to emit high-frequency sound waves which recognize a Full-Body Authenticated member’s signal), grab their items, and leave – no cash, no card, no check. All a member needs is a CHFCU checking account, and the cost of the purchased goods are automatically deducted.
We’re asking for a lot, and we know that. But we’re also giving a lot. That’s technology for you: Sacrifice somewhere to benefit everywhere else.
In an era where security is paramount, and fraudsters are finding more sophisticated ways to impersonate others, FBA acts as the ultimate deterrent to identity theft.
“It’s not easy, but we’ve seen people try and steal fingerprints and other popular biometric markers,” Kirkus says. “With FBA, a bad actor would literally have to steal the person to get their info.”
As of late March, the credit union has 128 members who are “full-body authenticated.” These early-adopters crave the new and the next, Kirkus says, and they are eager to be fashionable frontrunners.
“That’s great, because as much as we test and test, we need to rollout at some point, you know?” Kirkus says. “But we’re also still learning. And we don’t want to learn on all our 10,000 members.”
When CHFCU first announced the technology in 2016, some 1,000 members applied to be beta testers. The credit union divided them into three groups and will phase in the technology over the next two years before its planned institutionwide rollout in 2022.
“By then, we’ll have collected enough data to know for sure this works,” Kirkus says.
Small Sacrifices For Big Benefits
CHFCU’s journey to its FBA starts, in all places, the mind of a billionaire.
Liam Fitzwilliam owns several professional sports teams across both the U.S. and England. At a 2015 charity gala hosted by the local chamber of commerce, Fitzwilliam and Kirkus met and mused about the sports stadium experience.
“He said there was room for improvement, especially when it came to the queuing component of ticketing and vending,” Kirkus says.
Cash and cards are a pain – fans come to a sporting event to watch the event, not wait for concessions. What if there was a way to totally disrupt that poor experience? What if fans could walk in, take what they want, and be on their merry way?
At first, Kirkus thought this sounded like CLEAR but for sporting events. The more he thought about it, however, the more potential he saw in creating a holistic identification method.
“CLEAR scans a person’s irises and fingerprints, but those are static markers,” Kirkus says. “And anything static can be stolen. We’re trying to map everything about a person, down to how often someone wiggles their toes while they’re standing still.”
It required three years of R&D from the initial conception to the first test group of 128, but the program has taken off over the past several months. According to Kirkus, full-body authenticated members make 2,500 transactions every month at hundreds of area merchants as well fewer than a dozen stadiums nationwide. He’s pleased with that number and has confidence that full-body authentication will become a viable payment form soon.
With that on the horizon, CHFCU has a team of four employees who do nothing but consult members on the benefits – ease, security, minimal long-term health effects – of life-long full-body authentication. The credit union also requires members to fill out a waiver and provide a current physical from an accredited physician.
“We’re asking for a lot, and we know that,” Kirkus says. “But we’re also giving a lot. That’s technology: Sacrifice somewhere to benefit everywhere else.”
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