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Thumb-Print banking debuts in India

Wired reports on a new banking innovation that is taking place in India. Thumb-Print ATMs are being installed to take the power of 'anytime, anywhere' banking to rural India:

Banks and ATM machines are an unfamiliar sight in the rural countryside here, but the government hopes to change that with new technology that could ease the transition from cash to computers.

A pilot program will put 15 biometric ATMs at village kiosks in five districts across southern India. The machines are expected to serve about 100,000 workers who will use fingerprint scanners, rather than ATM cards and PINs, to obtain their funds.

Biometric ATMs are already in use in Colombia and a few locations in Japan, but haven't caught on in much of the rest of the world. As a result, biometrics companies are watching the experiment closely as a potential watershed for the industry.

Nagaraj Mylandla, managing director of Financial Software and Systems, which helped design security protocol for the new system, said there are 35,000 non-biometric ATMs in India today. In three years the number of machines is expected to triple to more than 100,000, leaving a window of opportunity for suppliers to make the new technology standard issue for all new machines.

The increase will mean that just about every rural village and outpost will have access to the world's financial backbone and, if the pilot program is successful, fingerprint identification could become standard, even for private bank transactions.

"Many banks here are keen on this idea of doing away with ATM cards," said Sunil Udupa, CEO of AGS Infotech, the company supplying the first batch of ATMs to the five districts in India. "Whether it is practically possible is a very different question, but the interest is huge."