When Greg Holmes, owner of the Monroe Grill in the PS Business Park on Herndon Parkway, was approached about trying out a new product called bCheck biometric payment system, or BioPay, which allows customers to purchase goods with the scan of their finger, the first thing he did was call the federal authorities.
"I contacted the FBI and they said the fingerprint wouldn't be registered because it's not a photo. It's likened to a key. Each key has certain grooves and cuts, and without those exact grooves and cuts, it might fit in a lock but it won't turn," Holmes said. "It's exciting and new, and I believe in the product."
Holmes signed on as BioPay's first merchant in April or May and since then the biometrics payment system has spread to more than 30 locations, mostly in Herndon with selected merchants in Arlington, Bethesda, Centreville, Chantilly, Fairfax, Manassas, McLean, and Sterling.
"We have always rolled things out in our own backyard because our family, friends and neighbors are here and they will tell you if something doesn't work," said John McNally, chief technology officer for the Herndon-based BioPay.
BIOPAY IS a scan of a person's index finger, not a fingerprint. During the scanning process, the finger is assigned a number corresponding to random points on the finger. It is the number, not the scan, that is saved in the system and used as a form of payment at participating merchants. The transaction, similar to a bank check card, subtracts the payment from the person's bank account. There is no charge to customers for signing up for the program, while merchants pay a transaction fee, just like they would for credit cards and checks. And unlike a credit cards or checks, however, the transaction fees for merchants are much less, said McNally.
Holmes said he is charged an average of 35 cents per credit card transaction, but with BioPay, he is paying about half that.
Other merchants share Holmes' enthusiasm for the technology.
"It's convenient, it's fast," said Ingrid Amer, owner of Ingrid's Hair Design in the Franklin Farms Shopping Center on Franklin Farms Road. "It's convenient for me, there's less paperwork."
Since signing up for BioPay two months ago, Rob Cook, owner of Fox Mill Pets, which has two locations — Franklin Farms Shopping Center and the Kmart Shopping Center on Elden Street — using the system, has noticed at least two BioPay transactions per day on his daily reports.
"Response from customers has been pretty good," Cook said. "It's very easy to use and the transaction time is about the same as a credit card."
Amer has noticed her male customers are more willing to sign up for the program immediately, while the women take a little longer to come around to the idea, but once they try it, they're hooked.
"My customers are excited about it," Amer said.
"IT'S AN ELECTRIC CHECK. It can still bounce and it floats like a check," McNally said. "We're signing up about 50 people per week and expect the numbers to go up. Everybody at first has reservations, but it's not Big Brother. We're not capturing information."
What it does do, said McNally, is provide a safer way of purchasing goods, by eliminating the need for credit cards and checks, which can be stolen and result in identify theft. It also extends that added security to the merchants and provides the payment quicker than with other forms of transactions.
Holmes said his repeat customers have signed onto the program.
"There's been a lot of interest, once our customers see one or two other people do it they say, 'Yeah, I'll do it,'" Holmes said. "We're a pick-up-and-go operation. It's very helpful. It relieves some of the congestion you get with credit cards."
Holmes said with the advances being made in technology, a system like BioPay was inevitable, but technology can only go so far.
"It's an added convenience when you're running errands, but I don't think it will replace cash," Holmes said.