Inside Consulting

Pay with your smile – facial and body recognition on the rise

What’s the first thing you learn when you start a job in a customer-facing position? You must always smile! In the future, however, we may experience a reverse of this scenario. Perhaps the cashier, waiter, or hotel receptionist will instead be awaiting your grin. This will be done with intention; paying for your groceries, food order, or hotel stay with a smile is a service that already exists today. “Smile to Pay” was introduced by the Chinese tech giant, Alibaba, almost three years ago. It is part of a larger trend that may revolutionize the way we use technology in our daily routines. We’re talking about biometric identification, of course.

Many physical features are unique to each individual. Consider the particular way we walk, the color and pattern of our iris, and our distinctive smiles. These distinguishing traits are perfectly suited to identify people with 100 per cent certainty. This is allowing vast innovation regarding the way humans interact with technology. The interfaces we are used to, such as entering our credentials on a screen to order and pay for food, are dissolving. Our physical features are becoming “machine-readable”; barriers between the digital world and the real world will soon vanish. Essentially, we are becoming “walking barcodes”. We can pay, travel, and enter buildings and venues by simply being scanned and identified through a camera. The future belongs to highly contextual living services that seamlessly integrate into our daily routines. These are enabled by biometric identification in combination with powerful algorithms. This is why “Walking Barcodes” is among the seven disruptive trends in this year’s edition of our annual Fjord Trends.

Biometric identification is key to personalized experiences

Biometric identification has been in use for quite some time. One of the first biometric applications, electronic fingerprint readers, was invented as early as the 1970s. This technology helped criminal investigators scan and match fingerprints within a database. However, this never really had a commercial breakthrough outside of forensics. Scanning information from your body is not the major issue; that’s actually the easy part. Instead, it’s analyzing and matching it to a personal profile with the highest possible certainty. This is now possible with AI-driven computer vision technologies and algorithms that are capable of processing and analyzing millions of pieces of information within a few milliseconds. This development is further fueled by 5G, a mobile technology that allows faster data connection and therefore quicker analysis of your biometric data in many places.

With biometric identification technology, organizations will present new ways to offer personalized experiences. This is key to increasing customer satisfaction. A recent Fjord survey shows that 53 per cent of customers find it critical for brands to provide timely, relevant, and personalized interactions. There is enormous potential here; in theory, businesses may “know” who you are once you walk in and subsequently provide services that are exactly tailored to your need and habits. To show how this could be used in the future, Accenture Interactive, together with Disney, created an interactive movie poster that can “read” the expression of the viewer’s face and then display a version of the poster that corresponds with this expression.

One cannot steal or easily replicate someone’s physical features. This is another significant advantage of this technology. Therefore, facial and body recognition is an incredibly secure way of identifying people. With identity theft and credit card fraud being some of the biggest challenges for digital commerce today, it’s easy to see why so many businesses show a growing interest in these advancements.

An increasing amount of organizations are pioneering biometric identification to revolutionize the way they interact with their customers. Apart from paying with your smile or other body parts, checking in for a flight at the airport is another real-word example. Gatwick, in the United Kingdom, is one of the first airports in the world to use facial recognition for ID checks before a passenger may board a plane. Another example is Zurich, the Swiss insurance firm, which allows customers to take a selfie, send it to the insurance firm, and get a life insurance quote almost immediately. There is no paperwork, at least in the beginning, and it’s a fantastic way to start a customer journey.

Data-privacy: Customers need to know when their body is scanned

Balancing the convenience of facial and body recognition with privacy concerns is a substantial challenge for companies and governments. Not only in technology but also in the responsible use of your body data, trust is currently a major barrier to the adoption of biometric identification technologies. This sentiment is reinforced by reports about state actors, such as secret services, using biometric identification technology to track the movements of individuals.

Therefore, businesses and governments need to focus on data privacy and security. To customers and citizens, they must clarify the purposes for why their biometrical data is used and how it is stored. Customers must also know when their body is being scanned and “read” like a barcode. You certainly don’t want to unexpectedly discover that you’ve just purchased something simply by smiling at a camera for too long. Thus, finding mechanisms that allow users to consent conveniently without destroying the whole experience must be prioritized.

We are seeing governments currently as the forerunners for using facial and body recognition to deliver personalized services. Predictably, most people would rather trust a government agency instead of a private company to use their data responsibly. However, with stronger benefits and additional convenience, more customers will allow the scanning of their biometric data to activate certain services.

The road ahead: Using biometrics to replace transactional stopgaps

It is time for businesses to take this movement seriously and begin evaluating which services can be unlocked by biometrics. This technology can create the next level of ease for customers. Paying with your smile and going through airport check-in without showing a passport or ticket are undoubtedly convincing cases. Where else could this technology be used to replace transactional stopgaps and improve convenience for customers?  Organizations must now develop and explore these opportunities to lead the way for others.

About the author
Hartmut Heinrich is Group Director at Fjord Switzerland, Accenture’s powerhouse for innovation and design. Hartmut brings more than 20 years of experience in innovation and human-centered design.

About the author


Accenture ist ein weltweit führender Managementberatungs-, Technologie- und Outsourcing-Dienstleister. Als Partner für große Business-Transformationen bringt das Unternehmen umfassende Projekterfahrung, fundierte Fähigkeiten über alle Branchen und Unternehmensbereiche hinweg und Wissen aus qualifizierten Analysen der weltweit erfolgreichsten Unternehmen und öffentlichen Organisationen in eine partnerschaftliche Zusammenarbeit ein. So schafft Accenture für seine Kunden nachhaltigen Markterfolg und bringt sie auf ihrem Weg zum High Performance-Unternehmen nach vorn.