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Banks burden senior citizens over biometric verification

Updated June 20, 2019

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System not working for those whose fingerprints have faded with age. — AFP/File
System not working for those whose fingerprints have faded with age. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Faiza Kazi took her 88-year-old mother to the bank for her biometric verification back in March. While Faiza and her sister had no difficulty getting the verification done, her mother did.

The bank informed Faiza they would send a report regarding the issue. However, nothing happened. After waiting for weeks, Faiza went and checked with the bank last week. She was told her mother had still not been verified.

“This is not just one bank, but quite a few have the same issue. I took my mother to the bank where she gets her pension in April. They told us they would not be able to honour her cheque as she was not verified. My mother has pneumonia, how am I supposed to take her to the banks for biometric verification when she doesn’t even have fingerprints.

“We are now stuck wondering if her accounts are going to be blocked. No one at the bank knew anything. I got a bank to send one of their employees to do her verification at home but I know it won’t solve anything.”

Talking about the account, Faiza said it was a very old joint account and there is no clarity about it — if one person gets verified, the other doesn’t, does the account still get blocked?

System not working for those whose fingerprints have faded with age

“When we opened the account, there was no biometrics then. My mother is 88, pays her taxes, has no fingerprints so what does this mean — that old people shouldn’t have accounts at banks. I don’t know what will happen in July,” she said.

Why is it necessary?

Back in 2015, a notification by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) advised banks to make use of biometric technology at their branches for customer verification. The purpose, according to the SBP’s FAQ section on biometric implementation in banks was to facilitate customers by instant verification of their particulars through an adva­nced technological verification tool.

In certain cases where verification cannot be done through biometrics due to genuine issues or technical issues, the National Database and Registration Authority’s (Nadra) Verisys system is used to verify individuals. An SBP spokesperson confirmed this is followed at all banks.

According to a June 3 SBP notification, the last date to verify all banks accounts has been extended to June 30, previously it was May 31.

No fingerprints, no records

In Parachinar, an 84-year-old man said he also had issues getting his biometrics done at his local bank. “My mobile phone’s SIM is registered in my nephew’s name as my fingerprints don’t show up anywhere. I’ve been to the bank almost every month since the announcement was made but nothing has been done to facilitate me,” he said.

Although fingerprints don’t change with age, it can be difficult to capture them in the elderly as the skin loses its elasticity with age and the patterns become less prominent.

According to Mohammad Farooq, his 71-year-old mother first went for biometric verification to her bank in Lahore in January.

“She went to her branch for biometric verification in the wee hours of the morning and it failed to authenticate her fingerprint. They explained that due to Nadra’s system being offline, the process couldn’t be completed and my mother would have to visit again.

“She visited again and the machine failed to register her fingerprint. It was again blamed on Nadra’s database being offline, but actually the fingerprint scanner being used was of substandard quality which created problems. It took a total of five visits spread over two weeks to the branch to complete the process.”

He claims the branch was requested to inform his mother if the biometric identification was working, but they never bothered to call her. As per the branch manager, Mr Farooq explained, fingerprint recognition for senior citizens was facing authentication problems due to their old age.

Official procedure

According to SBP’s website, the following scenarios may be considered for a biometric waiver — provided the bank is satisfied and there is a proper reason or proof is recorded and retained by the bank; a) connectivity or technical issue b) no biometric record of prospective customers c) customers whose eligible identity documents are other than biometrically verifiable documents such as passport or Alien Registration Card d) customer’s permanent physical disability, for example limbs disability, uneven texture/erased/unclear fingerprints e) customer’s temporary issue which covers wounded/bandaged hands/mehndi.

A banker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that SBP has told banks that if the machines cannot read senior citizens’ fingerprints they will be allowed a waiver.

“For someone who is, for example, a diabetic, they can submit a medical report or doctor’s note which states so. Otherwise, if someone’s Nadra forms and verification is not updated then they need to go there to sort it out — I hear they are fixing these things within 24 hours,” he added.

Talking to Dawn about senior citizens, the banker explained that in most cases senior citizens over the age of 65 are given a waiver as they don’t have any fingerprints.

“I have heard of very few cases with any issues. I had a customer a few days ago who said his fingerprints weren’t showing up on the Nadra database. I ran all his fingers on the biometric machine and finally, there was a match on the left hand’s index finger. If you are on the Nadra system, it is going to show up. If customers don’t do this, it is just going to prolong their visit every time they come to the bank as people will ask them for this or that document to verify them. If people are still facing issues, they should write an application to the bank.”

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2019