New Idex Biometrics CEO on fingerprint payment card vision and leadership focus
Graziani was already familiar with Idex Biometrics because of its partnership with secure element provider Infineon, and knew then-CEO Stan Swearingen from growing up in the same area and then careers in the tech industry that have run somewhat parallel, he tells Biometric Update in an interview. He wanted to know why Swearingen was not continuing to lead the company, but was told that it was a voluntary move, and that he would remain on board.
“When Stan took over two years ago, he basically restarted the company into a whole new direction,” Graziani explains. “An entire new technology team, a new technology developed by the company focused on the payment card industry. And he made it clear to the board at that time that while they were in R&D mode, he was happy to be the CEO, but when it was ready to go full commercial, he thought it would be good timing to bring somebody else on board.”
Graziani will take on all normal CEO responsibilities, but says practically speaking he will be focused more on partnerships and the commercial side, working with the company’s sales and marketing teams, while Swearingen will continue to focus on product and technology strategy, and with CTO Anthony Eaton and the technical teams on developing product roadmaps, and then carrying them out.
“Now that the product is largely ready to go, it’s time to go into full commercial mode and really start to ramp the business,” Graziani says. “That’s why the timing makes sense, because with my background and experience I understand the technology quite well, I can dig into the details as much as I need to, but it turns out it’s a benefit for me when I’m talking to potential commercial partners to understand the technology and most of all the commercial benefits. And that allows you to get creative on how you can come up with win-win partnerships that will help us accelerate the business.”
Infineon supplies the secure element for Idex’ TrustedBio biometric SoC, which Eaton discussed with Biometric Update in a recent interview. Graziani says that partnerships will be a key to the commercialization process, because of the complexity of payment card technology and systems, but also because Idex Biometrics is a small company, particularly compared to semiconductor companies like Infineon, or card manufacturers.
“They’ve been in the business for a long time, so they’re known by the banks, they’re known by the issuers. Infineon as a secure element supplier has been in the business for 30 years or so,” Graziani observes. “Those companies have brand recognition, they have the trust of the community and the ecosystem, and what we bring to the partnership is the cutting-edge technology that it’s going to take for this biometric card market to take off. The biometric payment card market will really take off when people can hit the price performance that will enable it to go mainstream, and that’s what Idex brings to the table.”
Idex Biometrics will continues to build partnerships with other secure element suppliers to help complete solutions, and with big card manufacturers who have been supplying the market for many years. With TrustedBio offering lower-cost biometric performance, the barriers to fingerprint biometric payment cards reaching the mass market continue to fall. While Graziani says the company is not in a position to predict how long commercial deployments at scale will take, once the market shift begins, it may be quite sudden.
“Once those pilots are completed, it’s really going to depend on the demand. One of the things that all of the partners that have talked to us have been pretty consistent on is they view the changeover as being very similar to the way contactless cards have started to take off versus the traditional contact PIN card. What they’ve all told us is that when we hit a certain price point, that’s when it can go mainstream,” he says.
“In the case of the contactless card, the tipping point was when the cost for the issuer was about two times the cost of a chip and pin card, and now nearly all the new cards that are being manufactured and issued are heading towards contactless. It’s really the big goal at Idex to enable that price performance point where we have this new tipping point and everybody switches over to biometric cards as well,” Graziani continues, noting that the big advantage for biometric cards over the original contactless version is that the terminals to support the latter already work with the former, so a significant step can be skipped.
The company can achieve its price performance goal because of its off-chip technology, according to Graziani.
“We can track Moore’s law for cost reduction, meanwhile adding performance,” he says, contrasting the approach with on-chip silicon sensors. “I’ve been in the silicon industry my whole career and it’s basically a real-estate game.”
The TrustedBio ASIC is only 40 nanometers, much smaller than the substrate the fingerprint image is collected on. As a small company operating in a market that produces something like 8 billion cards per year, that could provide the competitive advantage that brings long-term profitability.
Similar technology can also be applied in time to other areas, and Gaziani provides a glimpse of what those areas might be.
“There are many other ancillary markets where, when you finally can hit the right price point, and the right performance, I think you’re going to start seeing the fingerprint biometric work its way into other new applications as well.”
The smartphone market may then have been only a prelude to the main push of fingerprint biometrics into people’s everyday lives.