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12 Dec 2019

NatWest contactless key fob: can you really spend £100 without a Pin?

Which? asks supermarkets if they will accept contactless payments over £30

NatWest is trialling a new biometric key fob that enables users to make contactless payments of up to £100 - more than three times the standard contactless limit.

It attaches to your keys, so there's no scrambling around for your wallet or your phone, and payments are authorised with just your fingerprint, so a forgotten Pin won't scupper your shopping trip.

Here, we explain how the NatWest contactless biometric key fob works, which shops will allow you to make a £100 contactless transaction, and other ways you can pay without needing your card.

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How does the NatWest contactless key fob work?

NatWest's contactless key fob is the size of a normal keyring, with a square in the middle that functions as a biometric fingerprint reader.

Before you start paying, you'll need to register the fob and your fingerprint on your smartphone. For the pilot, this is all being done on a separate app, but if it's rolled out further then it could potentially be done through the NatWest banking app.

Then, when you're ready to make a payment in a shop, you simply hold your finger to the fingerprint reader and then tap the fob on a normal contactless or chip and Pin terminal.

A green light signals when a transaction has been verified by your fingerprint.

This means there's no Pin to try and remember, and no one else can use the fob if it gets lost - but, if it does, it can also be cancelled through the mobile app.

What's more, unlike other innovative contactless payment options (you can find out more about these below), the fob is connected to your NatWest current account, so you don't need to worry about topping it up.

What is the contactless limit?

The contactless limit on debit and credit cards is £30 in the UK.

However, some contactless transactions made using a card stored in your digital wallet - such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay on your smartphone or smartwatch theoretically have no limits.

Card providers can impose a limit on the amount you can charge as a contactless transaction using your smartphone or smartwatch.

In addition, some retailers put a contactless limit of £30 in place, even if you choose to pay with your digital wallet, as their terminals may not be able to support higher transactions.

Where can you spend more than the contactless payment limit?

We asked all of the major UK supermarkets to see if they would accept contactless payments on the NatWest key fob for more than £30.

Of the ones who got back to us, only Waitrose said customers would be able to use the key fob for more expensive purchases; Tesco and Aldi both said no.

  • The contactless biometric key fob is currently being trialled by 250 NatWest customers until the beginning of March, and if it proves popular enough to be rolled out nationwide, NatWest says the spending limit could be made even higher.

NatWest told us it's aware that not all retailers will accept contactless transactions of more than £30, but that it's working with Visa - the key fob's payment provider - to see what can be developed.

Other ways to go contactless

Contactless payments accounted for more than half of all debit card transactions in July, according to the latest figures from UK Finance - that's 647 million taps of a card or device such as a smartphone. It's a number that's on the increase, so it makes sense that banks and retailers are thinking of ways to make payments even easier.

Smartphones, smartwatches and NatWest's key fob are far from the only everyday products that can make contactless payments.

Contactless rings

Paying with a contactless ring

Sometimes referred to as 'smart jewellery', an increasing number of companies have started selling contactless payment rings.

Worn on your finger, as you'd expect, you have to make a certain hand gesture to make a payment go through; curl your fingers into a fist shape and bring your hand to the card reader as if you were going to knock on it. This requirement means it's unlikely you'll make any accidental payments.

This kind of payment method has the advantage of being waterproof, and it doesn't need charging or Bluetooth pairing.

All examples we've seen have a £30 contactless payment limit, and function in the same way as a prepaid card so you'll need to top it up via an app or set up an automatic top-up.

Apps should also have an option to suspend the rings if they get lost or stolen.

Contactless bracelets

Contactless payment bracelet

Contactless payment bracelets are another member of the 'smart jewellery' family.

There are quite a few already on the market; some of the more high-end options are made of leather and just look like a normal bracelet, whereas others appear more functional and look a bit like a fitness tracker.

The bracelets we've found all have a payment chip in the bracelet itself, which must be topped up via a smartphone app.

Contactless coffee cups

Costa launched its 'Clever cup' - a reusable coffee cup with integrated contactless tech - in November 2018, in a partnership with Barclays.

A chip is inserted into the cup's silicone base, which acts like a prepaid card you can top up with a Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card.

There's a £30 payment limit, and the payments can be tracked through the bPay app.