After testing it in South Africa, Mastercard has unveiled its next generation biometric payment card which combines chip technology with fingerprints to verify the cardholder’s identity.

The global card payments company said in a statement that South Africa was the first market to test the evolved technology. Trials were recently completed with Pick n Pay supermarket and Absa Bank. The new card, which builds on fingerprint scanning technology already in use for mobile payments, can be used at payment terminals worldwide.

Mastercard has launched a biometric card that uses fingerprints to enable purchases, revealing that it had been piloting the card, a global first for the company, in South Africa, where there is familiarity with the technology as South African Social Security Agency has used biometric cards to distribute grants since 2012.

"When we heard about the innovation at a global level, we thought it would be relevant to our customers here," said Mark Elliott, head of Mastercard SA. "There is also an understanding in SA of the value of biometrics."

Building on the fingerprint scanning technology used in mobile payments, Mastercard’s biometric card stores an encrypted digital template of the user’s fingerprint. Cardholders insert the card into a retailer’s terminal and place their finger on the embedded sensor, which verifies the fingerprint and authenticates the transaction.

The card can be used at any card terminal using EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) technology globally and in future a version of the card will feature contactless technology with customers hovering their card over a retailer’s terminal and authenticating the transaction by using their fingerprints. This offers added security over competitor payment mobile phone contactless tech by both Android and Apple, says Mastercard.

Richard van Rensburg, deputy CEO of Pick n Pay, said the cards personalised the shopping experience: "Biometric capability will mean added convenience and enhanced security for our customers."

Absa would make biometric cards available to its customers after the test period, said Geoff Lee, head of card and payments at Absa retail.