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Identification and payments at a distance: touchless and contactless experiences in a post-COVID-19 world

There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will bring lasting changes to our lives, from the way we authenticate our identity to the way we open doors – and even the use of public restrooms.

While many of these changes will bring about relatively minor changes to the way we go about our day-to-day lives, some will have a much larger impact on all our lives. Also, there is a common thread that runs through the majority of the changes that are already happening and those that are yet to come – they will all favour a contactless solution.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 through contactless solutions

The potential spread of COVID-19 has made people wary of touching keypads, card readers, lift buttons and other devices. Even door handles have become a consideration for many people. Early in the course of the pandemic, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said people might become infected by touching a surface containing the virus, which may survive for hours outside a host. As a result, many businesses are looking to invest in contactless solutions to help keep their staff and customers safe and prevent the spread of the disease.

This presents opportunities for businesses to embrace a contactless environment which not only helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but in many cases, also helps to deliver a better user experience for both staff and customers.

We can now expect demand from public and private organisations to accurately and without contact identify workers, students, patients and many more people in response to new challenges resulting from the virus. As a result, the use of biometrics to authenticate employees and customers has snowballed over the last decade and can easily and elegantly address these contactless priorities.

Technologies, such as iris and facial recognition, offer accurate solutions to identify people in person and online. And, importantly, these contactless systems do not contribute to the spread of the coronavirus or other pathogens.

The transportation sector are early adopters of contactless solutions

All around the world, mass transit systems are having to adapt to the changing needs of passengers. Pre-COVID, mass transit systems played an important role in sustainably serving many people who rely on subways, rail or buses every day.

According to a report by Visa, whilst ridership is starting to grow again, numbers are still well off pre-COVID levels and “cities and transportation systems across the globe are looking to deliver safe, reliable and efficient modes of transport.”

The report goes on to state that, “With nearly 50% of Americans saying that riding public transportation poses a high health risk due to COVID-19, public transport operators know that the success of their systems depends on overcoming new challenges in customer safety and building confidence, in addition to convenience.”

Transport operators therefore face a number of global challenges to keep their passengers safe. From mask compliance to disinfecting efforts, assuring the safety of passengers travelling on public transport has become a priority for transport providers.

Suddenly, contactless payments, identification and boarding have gone from a nice-to-have in terms of speed and convenience to an essential for the safety of passengers. People no longer want to queue to top up their transit cards or even pay with cash for single journeys. Visa is helping to tackle this issue in a number of cities around the world including Brussels, Bratislava, Bucharest, Hong Kong, and Turin via their open-loop, contactless payment option so that “riders can simply tap their contactless card or contactless-enabled mobile device at the terminal and ride.”

This is a game-changer in terms of reducing the contact points that form part of people’s daily commute to work and allows transit providers to focus on other areas in terms of managing the safety of passengers.

The future of travelling by air

It’s not just transit providers that are having to adapt. Airports are also making sweeping changes to the customer experience to restore confidence and to redesign the passenger journey as passengers increasingly expect a contactless experience.

We had already started to see some airlines adopting contactless technology pre-COVID. Electronic boarding passes have been available on our phones for some time, however, the COVID pandemic is likely to increase the reliance on electronic passes at airports throughout the world.

Facial recognition and iris recognition technology is also becoming more commonplace as part of the border security process with many airports adopting the technology to match a person’s face to their travel documents.

We can expect this to go beyond border security. NEC’s Digital ID is making a completely seamless travel experience a reality. From checking in, to dropping off your bags to boarding your plane; everything can be done using our world-leading facial recognition technology which is part of our Digital ID solution.

In addition to providing a contactless journey for passengers, airports are also investing in technology that can conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers. In April, Etihad became the first airline to provide this service with testing results available within 10 minutes.

It is possible that COVID-19 testing at airports could become the new normal once global travel resumes and according to Business Traveller, “The aviation body recently called on governments looking to introduce Covid-19 testing for travellers to deliver test results quickly and accurately.”

Changes to the banking sector

Of course, it’s not just the transport sector that will be impacted. The banking sector is one that is likely to undergo significant changes. Gone are the days where people will want to stand in line to deposit a paycheque or make a withdrawal.

And perhaps the biggest change will be a move away from carrying cash.

It seems implausible that people will want to handle wads of notes and coins that have been touched by hundreds of strangers let alone touching pin-pads touch recently by thousands of others.

Here in New Zealand, contactless payments were already a popular way of making payments even before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not the same story all around the world. A 2018 report by global management firm A.T. Kearney reported that in the US, just 3% of cards in use were contactless. Compare this to the UK where the percentage is 64% and South Korea where it’s 96% and you can see that contactless payments are not necessarily widely adopted around the world.

We can expect this to change.

Forbes reported in June that the way we pay for things in a post-COVID world is going to change, “On its banking blog, Accenture listed “a strong push toward a cashless society” as the No. 1 potential long-term impact that the pandemic may have on global payments processes. MasterCard polled 17,000 consumers in 19 countries and found that they perceive contactless payments as “the cleaner way to pay.””

There are undoubtedly big changes ahead for many sectors and the banking sector is one that will need to move quickly to tackle the demand for contactless payments around the world.


There seems little doubt that our post-COVID world will never go back to that it was previously. Contactless interactions will become the new norm and while many of these technologies were already in place, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development and roll-out of many of these technologies.

Instead of contactless being a nice-to-have solution for improving the customer experience, it has now become a must-have solution for providing a safe experience for customers across a wide range of sectors.

NEC New Zealand is at the forefront of biometric technology that is helping to tackle the need for contactless solutions. Talk to one of the team today and find out how NEC can help your business with contactless solutions to meet your needs and to protect the wellbeing of your customers.


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