Citi plans thumbprint ATMs for India poor

Monday, December 4, 2006

Citigroup is rolling out a network of biometric automatic cash machines aimed at illiterate Indian slum dwellers, using the latest technology to woo the country’s millions of “unbanked” poor.

The machines will recognise account holders’ thumbprints, eliminating the need for a personal identification number, and will have colour-coded screen instructions and voiceovers to help guide them through transactions.

Citigroup has already installed two biometric automatic teller machines, one near a slum district in Bandra, a neighbourhood of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, and the other in Hyderabad, south-east India.

It says it aims to expand the network to 25-35 machines within 18 months with a target customer base of about 50,000.

“This is the first time we have used biometric technology for this segment of customers,” said PS Jayakumar, a Citigroup business manager in India. “We see this as having the potential for global application in countries that are similar to India.”

The venture by the world’s largest financial group comes as banks start to appreciate the enormous market potential of India’s lower income groups and also begin to target the poor in big emerging market countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

Though India’s population exceeds 1bn, Citigroup estimates that there are only about 300m bank accounts in the country. However, loan repayment rates among the poorest borrowers in micro-finance schemes are about 98 per cent ? among the highest in the banking sector.

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Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)