Service 1st Federal Credit Union, in Danville, Pa., recently installed fingerprint scanners in its branches, to give members quick access to account records.

"When our members 'give us the finger,' it's typically a good thing," says Service 1st FCU's Chief Information Officer Jay Reed.

The $237 million CU offers the biometric authentication to its 23,500 members in eight branch locations. Fingerprint scanners are placed at teller windows. Once a member has enrolled his fingerprint, providing a driver's license for the initial authentication, the fingerprint scan can be used as the sole means of identity verification from that point on.

"Biometrics was the next obvious step in privacy and security - especially in a busy, open lobby," says Reed. "With the advent of lower-priced fingerprint scanners, it made the dream of biometric authentication come to life."

In 2008, Service 1st partnered with U.S. Biometrics Corp. as its technology provider. Two years later, however, the Naperville, Ill.-based company went bust.

"We were left without support and no way to add new devices to our system," says Reed. "It was in 2010 when we found RG2 Solutions to reincarnate this offering."

Companies that offer biometric software development kits are hard to find, notes Reed. It took time and research to secure a vendor.

"They were looking for identification [as opposed to verification] of the member at the teller line, so I tweaked the software I had to do that," says RG2 Solutions President Roger Grant. The company is based in Oklahoma City.

Reed explains there wasn't an initial large capital outlay, because he was able to utilize existing hardware. Otherwise, the CU would have had to purchase a backend database server and a frontend application server as well as the scanners.

"A small, easy-to-install biometric software development kit was installed on our workstations and the fingerprint scanners are under $100 each," says Reed. "Add in custom programming by RG2 Solutions and our project was finished."

Including Reed, there are five employees working in the IT department. The implementation process went smoothly, he says. "During setup, we needed to install software on each machine that would incorporate a biometrics scanner. We accomplished this via Windows group policy - all from the comfort of our cozy cubicles."

When the solution was rolled out, the IT department fielded some calls from co-workers who didn't totally understand the process, but the impact was minimal, according to Reed. "IT will perform daily clean-up jobs to remove biometrics for closed accounts, expirations, or other general maintenance. This takes less than a couple of minutes each day."

From start to finish, the solution took roughly three months to implement, which included beta testing some of the credit union's 81 employees to ensure the software was functioning as expected.

The solution isn't just for members.

"The majority of our employees use this technology to access their own accounts at the teller line. It's important our employees use our technology so we can intelligently communicate with members about the services," says Reed. "We also use an unrelated biometric finger scanner on our laptops for pre-boot authentication to support hard drive encryption."

While members are encouraged to use the scanners, participation is voluntary. To date, over 4,350 member accounts are registered. It takes roughly one minute per finger to scan and send the image to the server, according to Grant.

Each finger, he explained, can be assigned to an account as opposed to a person, which comes in handy if the member has multiple accounts or is a co-signer on an account. In some cases, six or seven finger prints are scanned.

"So your left index finger is associated with one account and your right index finger with another account and so on," says Grant. "The roll out is fairly simple."

To date, Service 1st FCU adds approximately 133 member accounts to the biometrics system and averages just over 1,700 member swipes per month, according to Reed. "Members using biometrics visit our branch offices three to four times per month."

While some members enjoy using the whiz-bang technology, not everybody likes the concept.

"There are certainly members not interested in the service. Some members are concerned that we could recreate their entire fingerprint from the data we collect," says Reed. "Since the system only records certain characteristics, this is not possible, but the fear is definitely out there."

W.B. King is technology correspondent for Credit Union Journal.

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