Saving face: Facial payments come to Chinese shoppers

Despite privacy concerns, customers seem unperturbed by facial recognition payments. (AFP)
Updated 05 September 2019

Saving face: Facial payments come to Chinese shoppers

  • Customers make purchases by posing in front of point-of-sale machines equipped with cameras

BEIJING: No cash, no cards, no wallet and no smartphones: China’s shoppers are increasingly purchasing goods with just a turn of their heads as the country embraces facial
payment technology.

China’s mobile payment infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, but the new systems — which require only face
recognition — being rolled out nationwide could make even QR codes seem old-fashioned.

Customers simply make a purchase by posing in front of point-of-sale (POS) machines equipped with cameras, after linking an image of their face to a digital payment system or
bank account.

“I don’t even have to bring a mobile phone with me, I can go out and do shopping without taking anything,” said Bo Hu, chief information officer of Wedome bakery, which uses facial payment machines across hundreds
of stores.

“This was not possible either at the earliest stage of mobile payment — only after the birth of facial recognition technology can we complete the payment without anything else,” he explained.

The software is already widely used, often to monitor citizens — it has been credited with nabbing jaywalkers and catching criminals.

But authorities have come under fire for using it to crack down and monitor dissent, particularly in China’s surveillance-heavy region of Xinjiang.

“There’s a big risk... that the state could use this data for their own purposes, such as surveillance, monitoring, the tracking of political dissidents, social and information control, ethnic profiling, as in the case with Uighurs in Xinjiang, and even predictive policing,” said Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney.

“This is certainly one of the more contentious aspects of the gathering of facial recognition data and the usage of them.”

Despite the concerns over data security and privacy, consumers seem unperturbed as facial
recognition payment hits the
high streets.

Alipay — the financial arm of ecommerce giant Alibaba — has been leading the charge in China with devices already in 100 cities.

The firm is predicting enormous growth in the sector and recently launched an upgrade of its “Smile-to-Pay” system, using a machine roughly the size of an iPad.

Alipay will spend three billion yuan ($420 million) over three years on implementing
the technology.

Tencent, which runs the WeChat app with 600 million users, unveiled its new facial payment machine called “Frog Pro” in August, while a growing number of start-ups are trying to tap into the burgeoning industry.

“(Facial payment) certainly has the potential to become popular with the wide push from major mobile payment players,” said Mengmeng Zhang, an analyst
at Counterpoint.

“Alipay is spending (billions) to popularise facial payment technology through giving out subsidies for vendors and rewards for consumers that use facial payment,” she added.

At the IFuree self-service supermarket in Tianjin, a 3D camera scans the faces of those entering the store — measuring width, height and depth of the faces — then another quick scan again at check-out.

“It’s convenient because you can buy things very quickly,” said retiree Zhang Liming after using facial payment for her groceries.


Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

Updated 15 November 2019

Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

  • Others have also reduced headcount amid economic downturn and property market weakness

DUBAI: HSBC Holdings has laid off about 40 bankers in the UAE and Emirates NBD is cutting around 100 jobs, as banks in the Arab world’s second-biggest economy reduce costs.

The cuts come amid weak economic growth, especially in Dubai, which is suffering from a property downturn.

HSBC’s redundancies came after the London-based bank reported a sharp fall in earnings and warned of a costly restructuring, as interim CEO Noel Quinn seeks to tackle its problems head-on.

HSBC has about 3,000 staff in the UAE, part of a nearly 10,000-strong workforce in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

The cuts at Dubai’s largest lender Emirates NBD came in consumer sales and liabilities, one source said, while a second played down the significance of the move.

HSBC and Emirates NBD declined to comment.

“The cuts are part of cost cutting and rationalizing to drive efficiencies in a challenging market,” the second source said.

Other banks have also reduced staff this year. UAE central bank data shows local banks laid off 446 people in the 12 months until the end of September. Foreign banks added staff in the same period.

Staff at local banks account for over 80 percent of the 35,518 banking employees in the country.

The merger between Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Union Commercial Bank and Al Hilal Bank saw hundreds of redundancies.

Commercial Bank International (CBI) said it would offer voluntary retirement to employees in September, which sources said saw over 100 departures. Standard Chartered, too, cut over 100 jobs in the UAE in September.

Rating agency Fitch warned in September a weakening property market would put more pressure on the UAE’s banking sector.