As stores increasingly accept contact-free payments from smart watches and phones, consumers are getting used to tendering payments through Apple, Google, and Samsung — big intermediaries that share each bank’s transaction fees. Now banks have an alternative: Hong Kong’s Tappy Technologies has developed a battery-less biometric payment authentication system that can fit inside a watch band, effectively turning the band into a secure credit or debit card.
Tappy’s solution effectively cuts bigger technology companies out of the loop by eliminating the need for a smartwatch to facilitate the transaction. Instead of passing the payment through Apple Pay and sharing transaction fees with Apple, a bank could give customers a bracelet, basic watch, or other wearable accessory with its payment chip installed, know that each transaction was finger-authenticated, and keep most of the fees for itself.
While Tappy doesn’t go into great detail regarding its biometric authentication system, it includes an embedded secure element, a finger scanner, and NFC transmitter. Fingerprint scanning isn’t included in today’s smartwatches, which instead rely upon basic passwords and heart rate data to authenticate users. Additionally, Tappy touts its solution as water-resistant, battery-free, and somehow capable of multi-card customization via a mobile application.
The company already has payment partnerships in place with the People’s Bank of China, U.K.-based Barclay’s, and two banks in India, as well as experience providing solutions to Timex, Guess, Suunto, and others. “Highly sophisticated algorithms ensure that our unique biometric sensors operate flawlessly without batteries,” said Tappy CEO Wayne Leung, “and that the watch’s design is aesthetically pleasing, which is important to our watch partners.”
Initially, Tappy’s solution will enable users in mainland China to make mobile payments anywhere that UnionPay cards are accepted, thanks to its work with the Bank of China and China UnionPay. While the company’s ambition is to get its sensors into the hands of more Chinese makers of watches, fitness trackers, bracelets, and jewelry, it could also find a receptive audience in international banks seeking to hold onto their customers and profit margins as smartwatches continue to grow in popularity.