Revenues in the global biometric system market is expected to top $30 billion by 2022, up from less than $20 billion in 2017, writes Vic Esterhuizen, Executive: Biometrics at XDS. During that time frame, facial recognition technology represents one of the most significant anticipated jumps from $1.4 billion to $3.1 billion.

This indicates its importance in providing organisations with a quick, automated, and contactless verification option that has been thrust into the spotlight as a result of the global novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Biometrics is the use of methods and technologies to recognise an individual based on physical or behavioural characteristics. Since these are unique to everyone, it becomes an ideal way to verify an individual’s identify. Traditionally biometrics solutions have been successfully adopted and implemented as part of permissions and access control systems, whether in a physical environment such as entry to a restricted area, or a virtual one to unlock a smartphone or even log in to a social media account.

However, as the technology that underpins these solutions advances, biometrics is proving to have many beneficial use applications, and within various environments.

In fact, across industries, more and more organisations are using some form of biometrics-based identity verification as part of their background screening of individuals prior to employment. Additionally, the likes of financial services providers, retailer and other product and services providers are increasingly adopting some form of biometrics-based verification at the point of sale, for verifying accounts or onboarding new customers. The applications are virtually limitless, and as the technology continues to advance so too will adoption of biometrics increase.

Fighting fraud

From a corporate perspective, eliminating fraud remains of paramount importance. Being able to verify the authenticity of an individual’s identity minimises the risk of doing business with customers who claim to be who they say they are. To this end, organisations require biometric solutions that give them the capability to authenticate, verify, and identify what can be considered the “true identity” of their personnel and customers to address and reduce the risk of fraudulent activities within their business.

The rise in such biometric solutions, especially on the facial recognition front, can directly be attributed to an increasing awareness of finding more innovative ways to mitigate risk inside the organisation. Of course, biometrics has become a familiar technology especially on the end-user side. Research indicates that more than 75% of consumers have used some sort of biometrics whether it is fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, and even hand geometry.

With fraudsters becoming more sophisticated and organised, and the number of syndicates especially in South Africa and the rest of the continent growing, more must be done to safeguard systems and processes. This is where the consumer familiarity with biometrics become an important ally for organisations.

Consider how many digital touchpoints into an organisation exist. And with each one there is an increased likelihood of a fraudster exploiting a weakness in the processes put in place. The goal is to obtain sensitive data using any means possible. This includes spoofing, phishing, and hacking attacks, employee collusion, and even a lack of process automation that can subvert even the best governed processes.


Facial recognition technology, one of the least invasive (from a physical contact perspective) form of biometrics, will become a vital ally in this fight. And when combined with the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), this transforms into an even faster, more effective, and accurate way to manage access control. For example, most of the facial recognition algorithms of 2018 outperform the most accurate algorithm from 2013. And with technology continually evolving, the algorithms now at play are even stronger thanks to how AI and ML can proactively adapt solutions based on learning patterns and the like.

In Africa, and similarly in markets across the globe, the Coronavirus has resulted in many organisations having to shutdown touch-based biometric systems even before the lockdowns in their countries started. But, as we cast our minds forward to envision the post-Coronavirus world; while there is certainly still a place in the market for touch-based biometrics systems (just like there is still a place for brick and mortar physical presence), we anticipate that adoption of contactless – and with that facial recognition – biometrics modules will continue to grow; particularly as a compliment to and in support of digital transactions.

Facial recognition provides any organisation with an indispensable way to overcome many of the challenges associated with more traditional (and document based) approaches to verifying an individual’s identity. And digital-based solutions offer the added security and convenience of engaging with an individual and verifying their identity from wherever they are located. In retrospect, the impact of the Coronavirus and lockdown measures could be the [event] that will force many organisations to embrace this technology more completely within their organisations

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