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What is biometric data?
Insights and trends

What is biometric data?

4 min read

Have you asked your voice assistant what the weather’s like recently? Do you access your smartphone using your fingerprint? Do you use facial recognition on your tablet? If you use any of these, then you’re already using cutting-edge technology known as biometrics to manage your daily life.

You might still be asking yourself ‘what does biometric mean?’ and wondering how it will affect your business in the future, so let’s take a deeper look and get some possible answers.

What are biometrics ?

Biometrics are a way to use your personal characteristics to identify you. It’s the technology behind home assistants, using your face or fingerprint to access your phone and even access some buildings. Passports in the UK have used a chip with the user’s facial biometric since 2006. The technology is commonly accepted where it enhances security and is simple to use.

In theory, it’s a convenient and easy way to cut down on fraud and identity theft. In banking, biometrics work as identification in the payment flow, to make sure a shopper is who they say they are, and that they are authorised to use a payment method.

Biometrics may be physical, using fingerprints, eyes or face, or behavioural, such as how you use your computer, or physical movement that’s unique to you.

What is biometric data ?

There are different types of biometric data that may be used to prove your identity. To be useful, the data usually needs to be unique, permanent and accessible, like these examples:

  • Face recognition: compares and analyses facial characteristics to get an exact match
  • Iris recognition: matches the unique patterns found in each person’s eye
  • Fingerprint scanner: captures the unique patterns and swirls on a finger
  • Voice recognition: measures unique sound waves in a voice as you speak to a device
  • Behaviour characteristics: analyses the way you interact with a computerised system.

With our growing reliance on our smartphones to run our lives, we might already be using biometric data every day without realising it, as some phones might use face or fingerprint scans to confirm its owner’s identity when downloading an app or updating a subscription.

Why are biometrics used?

Some forms of identification such as passwords may be easy to break or copy, leading to a high incidence of identity theft. The UK government’s 2021 Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that almost four in ten (39%) experienced a cyber security breach in the previous 12 months.

The benefits of using biometrics in business may mean safer, more secure and more personalised ways to make sure you can access systems and make payments with a reduced risk. Biometric security may offer deeper protection against fraud and theft because access is based on a user’s physical identity, which is much harder to fake.

Beyond protection from fraud, biometric data may also enhance customers’ experience of retail or hospitality, as for example, facial recognition can be used to welcome returning customers with a personalised hello without them having to prove their identity, or it can notify staff of tailored product recommendations they can suggest to a particular person.

While some concerns have been raised about biometric data usage and consumer privacy, in theory at least, biometric data is near-impossible for fraudsters to replicate. It is said that there is a one in 64 billion chance that two fingerprints are identical.

Biometrics and payments

In the UK alone in 2020, unauthorised financial fraud losses across payment cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £783.8 million. While banks and card companies prevented £1.6 billion in unauthorised fraud in 2020 – the equivalent to £6.73 in every £10 of attempted fraud being stopped – there may be limits to how much current technologies can do.

Biometric security methods can make it easier for customers to pay as there are no PIN or passwords to remember and with improved security, limits on contactless spend may be increased or removed altogether. In the future, it’s possible that this ease of use combined with the enhanced security and customer experience might lead to biometric payments becoming the preferred choice of UK consumers.

Protecting your business

Being aware of all the different ways your business is exposed to potential fraud could help you protect yourself and your customers. Our guides on Tyl Talks give some ideas as to how you can make your business more secure.


This has been prepared by Tyl by NatWest for informational purposes only and should not be treated as advice or a recommendation. There may be other considerations relevant to you and your business so you should undertake your own independent research.

Tyl by NatWest makes no representation, warranty, undertaking or assurance (express or implied) with respect to the adequacy, accuracy, completeness, or reasonableness of the information provided.

Tyl by NatWest accepts no liability for any direct, indirect, or consequential losses (in contract, tort or otherwise) arising from the use of the information contained herein. However, this shall not restrict, exclude, or limit any duty or liability to any person under any applicable laws or regulations of any jurisdiction which may not be lawfully disclaimed.

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