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Businesses The Almighty Buck

Citigroup Plans Thumbprint ATMs For India's Poor 123

Brad Lucier points out a Financial Times report (carried by MSN Money) that Citigroup is rolling out a network of biometric ATMs aimed at illiterate Indian slum dwellers. From the article: "The machines will recognize account holders' thumbprints, eliminating the need for a personal identification number, and will have color-coded screen instructions and voiceovers to help guide them through transactions... Though India's population exceeds 1 billion, Citigroup estimates that there are only about 300 million bank accounts in the country... 'It's not a philanthropic exercise,' [PS Jayakumar, a Citigroup business manager in India] said. 'For it to be sustainable, we should break even and make a little bit of money.'"
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Citigroup Plans Thumbprint ATMs For India's Poor

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  • Hm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by malkir ( 1031750 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:19PM (#17083866)
    So instead of thieves stealing your wallet, they'll just cut off your thumb instead!
    • Re:Hm (Score:5, Funny)

      by From A Far Away Land ( 930780 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:26PM (#17083924) Homepage Journal
      The illegal thumb trade is about to take off in India, that's for sure.

      Meanwhile, illegal thumb drives are still the domain of the Chinese.
      • [PS Jayakumar, a Citigroup business manager in India] said. 'For it to be sustainable, we should break even and make a little bit of money.

        In other words, "We want to make a profit off the very poorest of the poor. No one is safe from our greed."

        It's as bad as the current round of "profit records" by Canada's banks. Now that they've paid off their Enron bills by hiking service fees, their profits are leaping to insane levels on the backs of people who can't afford it and who have no choice. Now that

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Threni ( 635302 )
      That's what I was thinking. This is a country where beggars routinely have limbs amputated by their 'pimps' to get more sympathy from tourists.
      • by fishbowl ( 7759 )
        "This is a country where beggars routinely have limbs amputated by their 'pimps' to get more sympathy from tourists."

        Cite? Documentation of a single such case would be a good start... which should be very easy to do since it happens "routinely."

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by DeepZenPill ( 585656 )
        Gives new meaning to having your account "hacked."
      • India is hardly the only country in the world where such things happen: Thailand, The Philippines, Countries in South America, Southern Africa all have this problem. In fact, contrary to what some people will tell you, the statistics are more favorable towards India in this regard than other developing countries.

        India is a country that constantly defies western classifications.But, of course, whenever an article on India is put up on slashdot, every closet racist troll has to express himself by generating a
        • by Threni ( 635302 )
          > But, of course, whenever an article on India is put up on slashdot, every closet racist troll has to express himself by generating
          > a stereotype.

          I'm not sure you can define describing a fact as `generating a stereotype`. It was relevant to the discussion. America has made some progress since lynch mobs murdered innocent people because of the colour of their skin in the last half century or so, but it would still be relevant to mention that fact in a discussion regarding racism. Or would that also b
          • Nobody denies obvious facts. The problem was the one in which you stated them. You were characterizing an entire nation by saying "This is a country that..", instead of saying "In this country,... happens". That's like saying "America is a country that breeds backward hicks who vote for George Bush". It's a misleading generalization.
            • by Threni ( 635302 )
              I was characterizing a nation as one where a method of authentication which is defeated by a practice already prevalent might not be the best idea, whereas it would be less of a problem in the US. In that sense it wasn't a generalization.

              What you say about about Bush and `backward hicks` could be seen as a generalisation if taken out of context, but would also be relevant to certain discussions - for example if one was comparing US voters now with those of the past.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by XchristX ( 839963 )
                The characterization is still one-sided, since all Indians don't amputate beggars, only a segment of the population. Your statement was categorical, not qualified, and, I suspect, more motivated by resentment at the success of the Indian American community (highest median personal income and family income, as well as highest percentage of advanced degrees among minorities of Asian extraction: []) than any genuine concern for the plight of the beggars in India. By
                • by Threni ( 635302 )
                  > The characterization is still one-sided, since all Indians don't amputate beggars, only a segment of the population.

                  You're describing it as a characterization. I'm describing it as a statement of fact. If it's raining, you don't say "It's raining locally, but of course it's not necessarily raining in other parts of the country, some of which are enjoying sunshine", as it's not relevant to any decisions made about umbrella deployment.

                  > Your statement was categorical, not qualified, and, I suspect, m
    • Sadly, this will probably end up happening. Whoever thought up this great idea apparently didn't think about the consequences much.
      • It's far more likely they didn't _care_ about the consequences.

      • Thumb print biometrics is for better or worse nothing more nor less than a password that never changes. All that will be needed to steal it it to cause someone to get their thumb print or finger prints read once, like offering a cheap toy or a prize if you sign on with your thumb print. Then either a fake thumb or a code signal intercept will be done and instantly Identity theft will hit a new stride. Warning for anyone using biometrics as ID, this is a sucking security hole!

        • by Firehed ( 942385 )
          Going by the Mythbusters episode on the subject, it seems that it wouldn't be very hard at all to fake identity. They managed to lift a print off a CD case and do all sorts of fun things. One reader was fooled by nothing more than a black and white printout of the fingerprint. I can't for the life of me remember which episode (one of the movie myths ones, I think), but it was a bit concerning to say the least.
    • Right... I can see the news now: The first of Citigroup's thumbprint ATMs went live today, providing access to bank accounts for thousands of poor, illterate Indians.

      In unrelated news, theft of knives and bolt cutters has risen one thousand per cent. Police say they are baffled by this bizarre crime wave.
    • Its not going to help. How many atms are they going to set up so that the person does have to be physically present.Its common sense, the id card and certificate should never be the same thing. Its not impossible for people to not lose fingers when getting robbed now - its a clean job for the crook.
  • How soon before the first involuntary customer thumbectomy?

    Seriously, how soon before someone makes a wax impression or other fake thumbprint to fool the machine?
  • I can see the Slashdot postings now about thieves chopping off poor slum dwellers' thumbs in India so they can steal their debit card balances.
    • Doubtful. These accounts are likely to contain a superficial amount of money. Why would the bank do this then? Well, if for example, the balance of these accounts hovered around a measly $1, that's a few million dollars that the bank can use to lend to others that it wouldn't otherwise have. More lending translates into profit. Done.
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:30PM (#17083954)
    So will this be extended to the poor lepers who need banking services just like anyone else? Or will another big corporation shun this market segment?
  • Consider the Indian version of the redneck ATM theft: Two Indians break into a store, run a rope in, tie it to the ATM machine, hook it to two oxen and away they go!
  • Numbers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:34PM (#17083994) Homepage Journal

    Unless these ATMs hand out 10 bucks (or equivalent) per press the user will still have to understand what they are reading on the screen. I accept that many Indians may not be able to write a letter but surely memorising a four digit PIN is not so hard?

    • by Rakishi ( 759894 )
      The display can simply show the remaining money as bills in the local currency, person presses bill on screen and it comes out. If I remember correctly Indian money is both color and size coded for reasons of illiteracy.
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by jrumney ( 197329 )
        In most countries money is both size and color coded for reasons of convenience. The fact that the US uses bills that are all the same color and size has nothing to do with literacy, and everything to do with being luddites that don't want to get with the times.
    • Or if numbers don't work, maybe use the colours of the spectrum in place of digits? It'd be just as easy to memorize 4 or 5 colours.
    • I imagine a lot of illiterate people can still understand numbers.
  • by gjuk ( 940514 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:52PM (#17084098)
    Citigroup has a target of 50,000 slum-dwelling customers. That means the total deposits might be $100 * 50,000 = $5million. Assuming Citigroup makes 5% on this, it's $250,000 profit opportunity. This barely justifies 25 ATMs and the effort to get these people banking. The reality is that Citigroup is trialling (a) biometrics and (b) low income banking. They are separate trials.. Slashdot readers all know that fingerprint reading has not yet reached the point we'd trust our own bank accounts to it. Citigroup know this too - they are using people with little to lose to carry out large scale experiments. If someone gets 'hacked'- it'll cost $100 to reimburse them. Tops. Much better there than here... Low income banking; China and India account for 1/4 - 1/3 of the world's population - and they are currently not very wealthy. Still, make a margin and there's a good volume. What's more - over time, they may become wealthy and it'd be nice to 'own' these economies...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by baffled ( 1034554 )
      According to NIST [] 98.6% accuracy can be achieved with one fingerprint, 99.6% with two, and 99.9% with four or more fingers. Wonder how many fingers they're working with.
    • by Kream ( 78601 )

      Citigroup has a target of 50,000 slum-dwelling customers. That means the total deposits might be $100 * 50,000 = $5million
      $100 per deposit ? You have to be kidding me. $100 works out to 4,467 Indian Rupees. Few can afford to keep that kind of money in a bank. For comparison, the minimum deposit in most savings bank accounts in India is 500 Rupees. And this is quite apart from the fact that Citibank in India is staffed by morons fresh out of college - not bankers.
      • Huh?

        I have been to many private banks and they all have atleast a Rs. 5000 minimum deposit! I dont know where you are getting your 500 minimum from (a govt. owned bank I guess..) Citibank has way higher minimum deposit limits the last time I checked.. (Rs. 2 lakhs (~$4700 minimum) for their personal account.. and yes they had called me up to take their rip-off account so I know I got the minimum right..)

        Anyways, something about this just does not sound right. First of all the poor people will always prefer
        • by Kream ( 78601 )

          I dont know where you are getting your 500 minimum from (a govt. owned bank I guess..)

          Of course. The vast majority of banks in India are state-run (both in terms of number of banks, number of branches, deposits, areas of operation) And as far as private banks in India are concerned, they're unethical and badly run, with a veneer of marketing gloss on them. I've banked with HSBC, Federal, Syndicate, UCO and State Bank of India and while their staff are the most grouchy, State Bank is the most professional.

    • by ajmeri ( 947865 )
      This image of "poor" slum dweller is out of touch with reality. Did you ever read the NCAER survey of consumers in India? Who buys the most expensive jeans? Answer: Slumdwellers. Why? It is durable. Why would they want to use banking services? Saves time that they can use to earn wages. If you are earning about Rs 100 a day and wasting time going to the post office to deposit the money or send a money order to your parents, you would probably save at least Rs 25 for your time.
    • by dodobh ( 65811 )
      Not all slums are opoverty ridden. Dharavi (the biggest slum in the world) is also the biggest source of leather products in India. That's a USD 1 billion industry right there. And it is densely poulated, so you need about 8 ATMs at most.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If they are poor, then they won't have any money to withdraw from the ATM.
    That's unless the Banks etc., start to give them credit/loans.
    Seems like the carrot and stick method for a new market, take loans/credit out with us and we'll make Billions.
    I see lots of people going bankrupt in India in the future.
  • Mixed feelings (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DebateG ( 1001165 )
    We should ignore for a moment the security and technological issues here. Instead focus on the interaction of technology, culture, and society. What Citi is doing is adding a high-tech, complex device in a abysmally poor and illiterate culture. There are a few major issues with this.

    It is very unlikely that illiterate farmers will understand how exactly these ATMs work or for that matter, the banking system itself (which is so complex that most Americans don't understand all the fees and restrictions involv
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ebers ( 816511 )
      > It is very unlikely that illiterate farmers will understand how exactly these ATMs work or for that matter, the banking system itself (which is so complex that most Americans don't understand all the fees and restrictions involved). This can inevitably lead to Citi, knowingly or unknowingly, taking advantage of these people who do not have the education, finances, and political power to protect themselves.

      Illiteracy != stupidity. These farmers aren't from Mars; they can understand the concepts of fee
      • by The Man ( 684 )
        Besides that, word will spread quickly if people find that the banks are ripping them off, and no one will make deposits anymore, and then Citibank will just be left with an unused banking apparatus and a bad reputation.

        Which is exactly what has happened in the United States. Angry about ever-escalating fees (bank fees have risen more or less continuously for the past decade, and are growing far faster than inflation) - fees which for most banks and credit-card issuers now constitute most of their profit

  • Kind of Scary... (Score:3, Informative)

    by j_kenpo ( 571930 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:59PM (#17084160)
    Being a former Citi employee, I can say I don't have a whole lot of confidence in this. Citibanks own internal biometric attempts have been disastrous, and this was in a controlled population of 4000 in one off their service centers. Half the time the biometric readers wouldn't acknowledge the thumbprints as being valid, some people were able to use other login ID's with their own thumb prints, and that was if and when the readers themselves were even working. They had limited success, and I believe they even abandoned the project. Considering that fiasco, I am surprised that they would proceed to a much wider audience.

    Considering these results I don't think chopping off thumbs will even be necessary...
  • "illiterate Indian slum dwellers" need bank accounts and easy access to their cash?
  • Maybe while they're at it, they could teach the user to read a new word with every use.

    • Fooling the thumb print scanners was also in a Mythbusters episode. They fooled the "unfoolable" with a spit moistened photocopy (IIRC). I have little faith in such technology.
  • The machines will recognize account holders' thumbprints, eliminating the need for a personal identification number

    Why can't these idiots ever understand that fingerprints aren't secrets?

    So now I can collect a fingerprint from someone (you know you leave them on everything you touch, right?) and have instant access to their bank account?

    Mandatory reading for biometric proponents: Fun with fingerprint readers []
    • by orkysoft ( 93727 )
      There are fingerprint scanners that can detect a pulse, so a dead finger won't work, and it might also make forged fingerprints useless.

      The fingerprint is a what-you-are item, instead of a what-you-have item like an ATM card. It has the benefit that you can't easily lose it. That is, once it is clear that a cut-off thumb doesn't pay up. Which might take a disappointingly long time.

      A PIN code is a what-you-know item, which should be combined with one of the above items, but if the fingerprint reader can reli
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        There are fingerprint scanners that can detect a pulse, so a dead finger won't work,

        1) Print readers do exist that can detect warmth, the electro-conductivity of the finger, and pulse. These readers are more expensive, and less reliable. Do you really think a bank would risk pissed off customers because no one who forgot their gloves on a cold day could withdraw their money from an ATM?

        2) It's rather easy to make a thin overlay they fits on a finger, but has someone else's print. (See the James Bond movie
  • by Anonymous Coward
    How are they going to do this for (potentially) a billion users? I thought fingerprints had fairly low entropy... won't there be collisions?
    • I would assume you would still need to swipe your card. While your fingerprint may match someone else's the chance of someone stealing your card, and having the same print as you at the same time is almost nil.
  • Why do poor people need better access to ATMs?
    • All the little details as being able access an ATM (even if you dont use it) help improve quality of life, one less preocupation.
    • Why do poor people need ATMs?

      Grameen Bank (whose founder Mohammed Yunis just got the Nobel Peace Prize) built a mobile phone system in Bangladesh for poor people. This allows them to do things like find buyers for the shirts they make using the sewing machines they bought with the $75 they borrowed from Grameen.

      The article about CITI says this:

      Until now, most micro-finance initiatives aimed at the lower income groups had emphasised lending, rather than savings accounts, leading low-income earners to ke

  • 1.) Social Darwinism should be paramount here -- if they can't help themselves then no one can. 2.) Poor don't trust banks (come visit poor, mostly African American areas or Atlanta, there are check cashing businesses and western unions no more than a mile apart -- you don't see these anywhere but poor neighborhoods). This is not a good business plan for any bank -- trying to squeeze money out of people that simply don't have any.
    • Poor don't trust banks

      Wrong -- banks don't trust the poor. If you don't have a steady income to the bank, they do obnoxious things like hold the check until it completely clears, or impose an arbitrary service fee that the not-poor not only barely notice, but actually don't have.

      Check-cashing locations exist because the annoyance of banking as a poor American is greater than 10% of their wages. (Hint: if we wanted to give the poor the advantage of banking, we'd require that ALL employers offer direct dep
      • by twebb72 ( 903169 )
        Agree and disagree. Yes, there are fees involved in banks that poorer people would severely hurt their bottom line. But without the use of a bank and use of a check cashing facility you can easily avoid paying taxes on that money especially if you are being 1099'ed under a false social security number (or simply not being 1099'ed at all). There are a lot of 'free' checking accounts out there as well -- they do hold checks but for a couple days. But I don't think that would hinder someone. Employers almost
  • You know this makes perfect sense. Every year I give money to UNICEF and every year it's the same bloody thing. People over in the third world are still starving. All this time I've been asking what the hell have they been doing with all that money they get.. And now I understand.. The starving people in the third world just can't take it out of their bank accounts.
  • Citigroup rolled this out in Singapore a month or two ago, here's a pretty good overview []
  • 1. Introduce biometric ATM authentication for the poor in India
    2. Give bank accounts to the poor in India (you know, people who have no money to deposit)
    3. ????????
    4. Profit(?)
  • 'For it to be sustainable, we should break even and make a little bit of money.'
    Yes, it'd be tragic if Citigroup provided a service that benefited millions of poor people and they'd have to pay for it.
  • Every mention of fingerprint-based "security" always brings to my mind a line from ST:TNG. I paraphrase (because I don't remember the exact words):

    "I assume your hand will open this door whether you are conscious or not."
        -- Data to the time traveller from the past
  • 'It's not a philanthropic exercise,'

    The liberalisation of Indian economy in the 90s, the banking sector had multinational banks entering catering to the upper/middle class. Citigroup is one of those 'new age banks' (as they are called in India). They behave like western financial institutions - high fees, web/telephone connectivity, hidden charges, legalese, and a lot more.

    New age banks does not allow provisions like a zero balance account. Older nationalized banks are flexible with such provisions (s
    • So after returning to India after about two years, I went to this new-age, corporate bank last week to open a new bank account. The branch was swank, with polished tiles, air-conditioning, some fascinating frescoes (drawings of the old Hyderabadi currency; fancy that, eh) and a generally better upkeep than most public sector banks I was used to from my childhood. The offered me debit cards (yes, two of them), an instant photo (didn't bring my photo; why do they collect photographs in just about every form y

  • Blood (Score:2, Funny)

    by fyoder ( 857358 )
    And if their account is empty, a vein seeking needle will creep up the arm and extract a pint of blood for which their account will be credited. They're working on a method for collecting sperm which doesn't violate public modesty, but have yet to come up with anything that can be field tested. The extraction of organs will likely not appear for some time, as preliminary experiments on monkies have been... messy.
  • India's poor people are amongst the poorest in the world.

    So somebody wants to setup an ATM for them? I certainly don't mean to come off as an insensitive clod but there's some problems with this:

    -The friggin' transaction fees are probably more money than they make in a month.
    -Poor people don't use banks
    -Illiterate people don't have a clue about how or why they would need this

    -Poor people work very hard doing manual labor--their hands are very rough and scarred.
    I can't get biomentric technology to wor
  • I assume Citi is testing thumbprint ATMs on unbanked and lower income people because the fallout should be more managable if the technology failed. Sounds like a nice test market where you don't have to worry about losing loyal customers with $10k in the bank.

    But why India? There are 56 million unbanked people in the US: svpunbanked.html []
  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @01:24AM (#17086638)
    why is the bank assuming (or even finding) that poor people can't remember pin numbers?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why are you assuming that everyone in the world speaks or understands a language as well as you do?
      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )
        Because all people that any bank would be interested in know at least one language.

        In fact I bet you can't name any (not mentally or physically disabled) group of people who don't underestand any language at all.

        Also (pin) numbers are numbers, and are the same in any language.

        Also when someone uses a ATM, they're gonna have to be able to read the screen anyway.
    • Apparently, they can do tech support for my laptop, but they can't remember a 4-digit PIN.
  • Building a Better ATM []

    PRODEM Private Financial Fund has been using specially designed ATMs for poorer communities in Bolivia for several years now. The ATMs uses smart cards, finger prints, and a multilingual voice-driver interface with a color coded system. The cost is about half of the cost of traditional ATMs.

    From the World Resources Institute:
    Serving the Poor Profitably in Bolivia []

    At first glance, the largely illiterate and impoverished villages of indigenous peoples nestled in the rural jung

  • I have seen ATM security men helping illiterate ATM users operate their ATM account. Thumbprints and voice commands would now avoid those situations. Certainly a move towards better customer satisfaction.
  • Just how much money are they spending developing, producing and deploying all of these biometric ATMs for "India's poor and illiterate"

    Wouldn't it be more cost effective to just teach them how to use the ATM when they sign up for an ATM card?
  • "biometric security measures were fooled 90% of the time by simple attacks like Play-Doh molds []"
  • Get the scoop here: []
  • Really, not meaning to disrespect the poor, but how many will have money in the bank instead of their pockets?

    I do agree that in general, some form of biometric verification is good when making financial transactions, just not sure if this is the ideal place for such a rollout.
  • If only this was around a few decades ago, the beggar in Pushpak wouldn't have to hide all his cash under jute bags :)

    Btw, this isn't really offtopic - just a tangential reference to an old (and really enjoyable) Hindi movie. The movie itself is entirely without any dialogue, so you don't even have to know Hindi (or any other language!) to watch it :D
  • Having been a Citibank(India) customer for the past 3 years, I can assure you that customer interest is the last thought on Citi's mind. They do not have branches and force customers to use phone/e-mail banking, which are next to useless. Anyone who has ever tried to get a problem redressed by Citibank would probably agree with me. And anyway, poor iliterate Indians will not have access to phone or e-mail. The only motive I see is that they get to do a beta trial on people who will probably not understand
  • I'm a bit sad to see that the majority of comments here are looking at the downside/impracticality of Citi's initiative - not to mention conspiracy theories about biometric trials and ripoffs.

    Sure, it's not philanthropy. But it may well do a lot of good. I'd like to make a couple of points and ask a few questions:

    1. 'Slum Dwellers' are poor. But they can still own televisions and radios. They do spend considerable sums when getting married/on special occasions. Giving them banking facilities makes sense.

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.