Thursday, September 21, 2006

No Purse Required

MILWAUKEE -- When Katy Weber goes shopping at Roundy's Metro Market in Milwaukee, she doesn't bring a purse, credit card, debit card, check or cash.

All she needs to pay for her groceries is her index finger.

A sensor pad at the checkout counter scans her finger, automatically registers any discounts and then debits her bank account.

For Weber, 28, using the Pay By Touch pad is a matter of convenience. "I don't have to dig around in my purse," she said.

The idea of shopping without bringing a purse or wallet might take some time to catch on, but companies using the finger-scan system say that, store by store, it is gaining acceptance.
Jewel-Osco is the biggest user in the Milwaukee area of the Pay By Touch system, which is the industry leader in the touch-system payment technology. It rolled out the system last spring, and the system is available in all 15 Jewel-Osco stores in Wisconsin.

In Jewel-Osco's four-state area, about 56,000 customers are signed up for it, said Juanita Kocanda, Jewel-Osco's manager of public affairs.

"It's very well received," Kocanda said. "We get positive feedback, especially from the people who write checks, because it comes right out of your checking account and you don't have to write a check."

Nationally, the Pay By Touch system is used at more than 2,500 retail locations, said Shannon Riordan, spokeswoman for the four-year-old San Francisco firm. She said that, combined with a check-cashing system the company sells, it has signed up over 3 million consumers.

The finger system is more secure than using a credit or debit card or writing a check, because there are no numbers on a card or check that an identity thief could steal, Riordan said. Pay By Touch users are required to punch in a search code to start the transaction -- usually easy-to-remember digits like a telephone number -- but without the finger scan, no one else can gain access to the account.

"Overall, for merchants and shoppers alike, it greatly reduces the chances of fraud at the point of sale," Riordan said.

Riordan stressed that the finger image used to authenticate a transaction is not an actual full fingerprint. "It uses 40 data points out of hundreds, from your finger," she said. "That is the amount of data that gets encrypted right then and there and it cannot be reproduced into a full fingerprint.

But surveys show some consumers, as much as they like the sureness of biometric identifiers, still find something Big Brotherish about letting anyone scan the print side of a finger, said Avivah Litan, a financial technology consultant with the firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"Some people like the convenience, other people think it's a big privacy imposition," Litan said.
Riordan said there is nothing to worry about, even though she understands why it's a concern.
"If we don't respect people's privacy -- if we aren't dedicated to that -- we are going to fail as a business," she said. "So we are motivated. This is a very, very important promise that we make and keep with our Pay By Touch members."

At Roundy's Metro Market, which has used the system for two years in a pilot program, fear of having a fingerprint in a database doesn't seem to be an issue, said customer service manager Robin Moga. She said that might be because of the store's clientele, which includes many young adults.

"They love the new technology. They are all about it," Moga said. Customers sign up for Pay By Touch at no charge at kiosks in stores where it's used. A scanner at the kiosk records the finger data needed. The sign-up process requires a driver's license, a voided check and, if desired, a preferred shopper card for discounts. Although retail stores such as supermarkets are the "early adopters" of the finger-scan payment technology, other types of retailers are showing an interest, Riordan said. "People, as time progresses, will see it in more and more places, and it will become commonplace," she said.