‘Biometric verification’ is a term being thrown around a lot these days. Everyone is worried about it but does everyone know why it’s being done and how to get it done?
Naya Din spoke to an expert, Asad Rizvi, who is the CEO and founder of Currency Market Associates. He explained why we’re getting fingerprinted, how to get it done and what to do if you can’t.
To start with, biometric verification entails you getting your fingerprints digitally scanned to make sure your data (like your CNIC) matches your bank account details. The government wants to make sure that they know who owns all the bank accounts in Pakistan. This is to prevent money laundering and fake accounts.
We all saw what happened with the fake accounts being made in the names of people who had no idea about them. Falooda sellers and teenagers had accounts with millions of rupees in their names. The government wants to prevent this because these accounts are often used for money laundering, which means someone is trying to take money that might not have been made in a legal way and either send it abroad or use it without being caught.
Part of the reason Pakistan is urging everyone to get their biometric verification done is because the FATF, a global body that fights money laundering, has put us on its Grey List because it says we aren’t doing enough to stop money laundering. If don’t want to be placed on its Black List, which comes with a long list of problems, the government needs to take steps to curb money laundering.
But lots of people are confused about the biometric verification process. It’s basically a documentation of the economy, explained Rizvi, adding that the government is hoping to curb money laundering and benami accounts.
The State Bank of Pakistan actually first made biometric verification compulsory in 2003 but banks took a while to comply, he said. Now, there’s no way to get around getting your biometrics verified, he said.
How to get your biometrics verified
The process is simple: go to the bank with your original CNIC and ask them to get your biometrics verified. You’ll have to scan your fingerprints. But not all branches have the fingerprint reading machines.
Rizvi advises that you go to the branch where you opened your account and ask there. If they don’t have the facility, ask where you can go to have your biometrics verified.
What happens if you can’t go to the bank?
But not everyone is able to go to the bank. People might be abroad or sick and might not be able to make it before the June 30 deadline. Rizvi doesn’t think that it should be a problem.
You should prepare an affidavit, he advised. Tell the bank how long it’ll take before you can visit the branch in the affidavit, he said.
This should apply to joint accounts where one account holder is abroad, overseas Pakistanis and the ill. The banks should facilitate you and if they don’t you can complain to the State Bank of Pakistan, he said. You can also approach the provincial ombudsperson.
Other stuff you need to know
Rizvi warned that people also need to get their accounts in order; biometrics aren’t the only means of verifying your accounts. He said people need to make sure their documents are in order, which means updating your phone numbers and addresses and making sure all the information is up to date.
There are rumours that people with a certain amount of money in their accounts will be questioned about their source of income, but Rizvi said it’s all speculation. Until something comes in writing, you shouldn’t pay any heed to this, he said.
Another misconception is that if you opened your account recently, say in the past three years or so, you won’t need to get your biometrics verified. That isn’t true, said Rizvi. He related a story about someone who came to him recently and told him that he opened his account recently and when he went to the ATM, he couldn’t access it because he hadn’t had his biometrics verified. Just because you had your biometrics verified before, doesn’t mean you won’t have to do them again, he said.
The best thing to do is to visit your bank and have your biometrics re-verified just in case. Lots of banks didn’t have biometric facilities before, so new account holders may never have had their biometrics verified, said Rizvi.
The deadline is June 30 but he can’t comment on an extension right now. We’re following the FATF’s guidelines so there might not be an extension, he said.
He also said that if you don’t get your biometrics verified by June 30 your account will be temporarily suspended, emphasis on temporarily. Your money will not go anywhere if your account is suspended. You will just have to get your biometrics verified and then you’ll be able to access your money again.