Malawi uses fingerprint ID for new national card

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Net1 Investment Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of JSE-listed Net1 Applied Technology Holdings (Aplitec) has announced the launch of the national switching and smart card payment system on behalf of the Reserve Bank of Malawi.

Malawi is the fifth African nation to adopt Net1`s Universal Electronic Payment System (UEPS) in a national switching environment, and the first to use the biometric fingerprint methodology as means of identification.

The switch facilitator, Malswitch, manages the system which provides an integrated ATM and electronic funds transfer at point of sale management system. Net1 says the service will deliver at a significantly lower cost than other systems.

To date, five financial institutions have joined Malswitch, together with BP Malawi, a bulk fuel supplier that intends to use the system to facilitate its e-purse fuel purchases.

The Malawian government is contemplating using smart card technology for its national ID system, and Brenda Stewart, African project manager for Aplitec, believes it would make sense for the government to utilise Malswitch as she expects over a million fingerprints to be stored on the system by December next year.

Stewart says the UEPS system uses patented technology, and the entire system integration is managed by Aplitec.

The fingerprint scanners are built into the ATMs as well as the point of sale terminal at merchant stores.

"When a person enrolls for a smart card, we take all 10 fingerprints. The best four images are then stored onto the chip of the card. At a store the person will be asked to scan one of the four fingers [for which fingerprints have been stored] and unless a positive identification can be made from those four scans, the transaction will not take place," explains Stewart.

Spending transactions take place offline, where both the merchant card inside the terminal and the client card are updated in real-time, making it attractive for rural, unbanked citizens and merchants.

The card used in Malawi has an 8KB storage capacity and Stewart says this holds the four fingerprints as well as numerous e-purse facilities.

The contract with the bank has so far brought in around R24 million worth of revenue, and the company says a strong take up rate of the card is likely to boost this in the near future.

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10 Aug
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