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One man’s quest to pay for lunch with a chip implanted in his thumb




The NFC chip implanted in Meow-Ludo Meow Meow's thumb.
The NFC chip implanted in Meow-Ludo Meow Meow’s thumb.
Image: Mashable

By October, Meow-Ludo Meow Meow hopes to leave his wallet at home — maybe forever.

The near field communication (NFC) chip he has implanted in the back of his thumb could soon let him make contactless payments and potentially catch public transport.

Meow (he had his named changed years ago) is part of a movement of people who are blending their bodies with technology, or biohackers. In fact, the NFC chip is only one part of his dedication to living through experimentation and science. The founder of Biofoundry, a community lab in Sydney, Australia, is also running in the upcoming Australian election as a Science Party candidate.

The chip, which feels like a tiny, hard cylinder to the touch, was implanted in April at a piercing studio in Sydney. It wasn’t too painful, he told Mashable Australia, and his thumb was tender for only a short time after. 

“If you think about it like a cat or dog microchip, it’s quite quick and quite painless,” he said.

Leave the keys and wallet at home

The chip can only perform small tasks for the moment, but Meow has grander plans.

Currently, if he holds his thumb to the NFC reader on the back of his smartphone, it can detect the business card the chip is carrying. He can also reprogram the chip using a basic app. While we were together, he programmed it to disclose our location on Google Maps.

“It’s basically a little piece of memory that can do some fun stuff,” he said.

Working with with technologists Nathan Waters and Phill Ogden, Meow is working on a project to facilitate financial transactions through the chip with just a tap of his thumb on a store’s contactless payments reader. Think of it as a fintech startup merged with a biohacking experiment.

By October, the team is hoping to make the implant work with the Commonwealth Bank’s EFTPOS tablet, Albert, which is a common contactless payment system used in retail stores. To allow transactions to go through they’ll need to build a new app for Albert. The Commonwealth Bank has been contacted for comment. 

They’re also going to experiment with ways to integrate the chip with Opal, Sydney’s electronic public transport card.

Waters, who doesn’t currently have an implant himself, told Mashable Australia the technology to allow such transactions is ready now, but companies need to be on board. “The technology has been around for 10 or 12 years,” he said. “The only thing is having partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and Opal to allow their backend to recognise it.”

If companies are open to it, the project could quickly evolve. “Ultimately, it would be great to have a business where people can book in for an implant, pair it with an app and throw away their wallet.”

For Meow, the end goal is to have the implant work with PayPass — MasterCard’s contactless payments system. This would allow Meow to use his thumb to pay at most retail stores across Australia, as PayPass is widely accepted. 

PayPass requires more memory, however — Meow’s NFC chip can hold only 868 bytes. He’d need to put a chip with larger capacity in another finger. “I’ll probably put it in the other thumb, and keep this one for hacking,” he said.

The potential of implants

When Meow first got the chip, he had no idea what he wanted to do with it. However, he quickly realised that it had two main capabilities: authentication and activation.

“The two biggest areas the chip could enable are authentication — I have a little bit of memory inside my thumb that can identify me uniquely — and also, [to] activate things,” he explained.

In the short term, such chips could eliminate some of the mundane paraphernalia of daily life. “Your keys and wallet — those two things can be entirely replaced with a chip in your hand,” Meow said. “When you put your hands on the steering wheel, that could start your car.”

Having unique identifiers within the body could also reduce other moments of friction. “When I walk into a supermarket, it will tag me as I go in, every single piece of food that I buy will be NFC tagged and I’ll just walk out. The transaction will happen automatically,” he suggested.

If these chips become smarter, their potential could be immense. What if your in-body payment chip was connected to health sensors, for example?

“If you hadn’t exercised enough in a day, it might stop you from eating [bad] foods,” he said. “If it had a sensor that could detect blood glucose or heart rate, or it connected to a Fitbit, so that the Fitbit says ‘Oh, you haven’t run today, we’re not going to let you buy a Mars bar.'”

Meow-Ludo Meow Meow.

Meow-Ludo Meow Meow.

Image: facebook/Meow-Ludo Meow Meow

Hacking the body

Meow has no time for the qualms and queasiness of body-hacking critics. In his view, many people already have technology inside them — among them, pacemakers, Implanon, IUDs and blood glucose monitors.

“I’m very interested in challenging people’s conception of bodily sovereignty and their ideas around how you interact with technology,” he explained.

Waters agreed there was a stigma to implants, particularly their potential to allow Big Brother-style tracking. “All I want to do is to take the capabilities of what’s in my wallet right now and reduce that down to a chip,” he said. “Nothing too sinister.”

Having unique identifiers built into the body may be a privacy obsessive’s nightmare, but for Meow, the age of anonymity is well and truly over. We already give companies immense reams of our biological data — think fingerprint access on our smartphones or iris authentication — and such chips could go someway to halting that flow.

“A thumb swipe, or a fingerprint, or an iris scan, [can be used] to identify or authenticate, but it’s actually a lot easier to go the other way,” he said. “Instead of getting the computer to read your information, the technology inside you [could] run on the same information.” 

If you’re wondering where he gets his inspiration for experimentation, you have popular culture to thank. Tinkering with old Omega systems forms some of his childhood memories, but it was really the blurring line between biology and computing that was most alluring, and one film provided an answer.

“The first thing I wanted to be was a genetic engineer,” Meow said. “I watched Jurassic Park, and I’m like, I want to do what they’re doing.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.



The rise in mobile banking: Bank of America, First National and TD




Share Mobile banking has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and banks are reacting with enhanced mobile capabilities, new features and educational tools to support the new wave of digital users. Bank Innovation talked with some of the biggest banks across the country to learn how mobile banking has changed in the past five months and …Read More

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Get Wise: Business Banking Gains a New Challenger




Whatever benefits the challenger bank revolution may bring to retail banking customers, the opportunities these neobanks provide to small businesses may be even more significant. In fact, there is a growing cadre of digital-first challengers who have decided to put innovating on behalf of small business banking at the top of their priorities.

One such company is Wise, a BBVA-backed challenger based in San Mateo, California, that announced the release of its premium checking account in the U.S. this week. The new offering, available for $10 a month, enables businesses to earn up to 1% APY on deposits through a combination of a 0.5% base APY and an additional 0.1% for every $1,000 purchase using a Wise debit card. Accountholders get 25 free ACH deposits and 25 free outgoing bank transfers a month, as well as additional payments services. Among the functionalities to be added are remote check deposit, the ability to send digital checks and international wires, and support for Quickbooks.

The new offering comes in the wake of the company’s first major fundraising: a $5.7 million seed round in April led by Base10 Partners and featuring the participation of several other investors including Abstract Ventures and Backend Capital. The company told TechCrunch earlier this year that it has 1,000 business customers, with average workforces ranging from 2 to 10 employees, and “between $500,000 and $5 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue).”

Finovate audiences met Wise last year when the company made its Finovate debut at our September conference in New York. At the event, Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) demonstrated the company’s “small business banking-in-a-box” solution, and previewed additional products and services for small businesses including payments and invoicing.

From left: Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) at FinovateFall 2019.

Thyagarajan founded Wise after a stint managing product for Mojio, a platform for connected cars. Before that he was a classic serial entrepreneur, launching a personal organizer (LivingOrganized), and a pair of password management platforms (TeamsID and Gpass). But a sense that he wasn’t “doing what I really wanted to do” led him to leave the “hot startup” in search of what he called “problems that needed solving.”

“My explorations led me to FinTech and I was pleasantly surprised with the rapid advancements in technology transforming the financial industry, especially in banking and payments,” Thyagarajan wrote on the company blog last summer, looking back on his decision to launch Wise. “It got me thinking: what if we could build a banking product that can deliver on the promise of putting the customer first … And solving real world problems.”

Thyagarajan’s reflections are similar to those his co-founder Venkatraman, who in a companion post observed that Wise’s own experience as a small business trying to secure quality banking services was vindication of the company’s mission.

“The day started innocently enough as we walked into a local bank with all our paperwork in hand,” he wrote. “That was the beginning of a chase around Silicon Valley to find a bank that would take our money and open up an account. Banks would reject us for all sorts of reasons or just ignore us.”

These days, with an new offering, a big investment and a major banking partner in BBVA in hand, it looks like the fintech world might be ready to wise up.

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels


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Standard Chartered Ties Up with Microsoft




Adding to the big-bank-to-big-tech partnerships announced in recent weeks, Standard Chartered secured a three-year partnership with Microsoft today.

The bank will leverage Microsoft to take a multicloud approach that will port its significant applications to the cloud. Specifically, Standard Chartered is planning to make its core banking and trading systems and digital ventures such as virtual banking and banking as-a-service cloud-based by 2025.

“Cloud is a cornerstone of Standard Chartered’s strategy to meet the present and future banking needs of our clients,” said Group Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered, Michael Gorriz. “Using cloud services improves our ability to be agile and innovative, while increasing our operational efficiency and resilience. As disruption in the financial industry continues, we can focus on client benefits by deploying our solutions quicker and allowing for faster integration of new business models and partners.” Gorriz added that today’s partnership is a “major milestone” in Standard Chartered’s journey to become cloud-first.

Standard Chartered will pilot the launch by moving its trade finance systems to Microsoft Azure. The move is expected to facilitate cross-border trade at the bank.

The partnership extends to Microsoft’s workplace tools. Standard Chartered’s 84,000 employees will be working on Office 365 and communicating via Microsoft Teams.

This news comes during a time of widespread digital transformation across the banking sector. Banks and fintechs are seeking to move their operations to the cloud to update their infrastructure and create a better customer experience. There are two factors driving this change: the global health crisis that has moved many in-person interactions to online channels and the rise of competition from challenger banks.

“Cloud computing is an enabler for financial institutions to modernize their infrastructure and systems, to gain the agility they need to respond to competitive pressures, regulatory environments and customer demand,” said Bill Borden, Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Financial Services at Microsoft. “We are committed to helping Standard Chartered Bank in its ongoing digital transformation journey as it strives to address evolving customer needs and build the next generation of banking experiences.”

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash


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