The first trials were conducted recently by South African retailer Pick n Pay and Absa Bank, a Barclays Africa subsidiary.
The new card can be used at EMV terminals around the world. Once registered with a financial institution, the owner's fingerprint is stored on the card as an encrypted digital template.
EMV is a technical standard for smart payment cards, payment terminals and automated teller machines that can accept them, and stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, the three companies that originally created the standard.
The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.
“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, MasterCard.
“Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.”
Additional trials are expected to be conducted over coming months in Europe and the Asia Pacific region, with a global rollout expected by the end of 2017.
Deputy chief executive Pick n Pay Richard van Rensburg said: “We are delighted that this innovation has been trialled for the first time at Pick n Pay stores in South Africa.
"Biometric capability will mean added convenience and enhanced security for our customers. The technology creates a platform on which we can further our strategy of personalising the shopping experience in a meaningful way. We have been extremely impressed with the robust and secure nature of the technology.”
Geoff Lee, head of card and payments at Absa Retail and Business Banking, added: “We are very proud to be the first bank in Africa to test – in a real payment environment – the single-touch authentication technology that will unlock the benefits of biometrics.
“The technology will effectively enable our customers to rely on their unique fingerprints to make payments in a face-to-face environment. Following the test period, we will make it available to our customers in a way that is affordable, reliable, and convenient and, most importantly, extremely secure.”