Voice Biometrics and Private Banks

Authentication processes can often be a burden for private banking clients, can voice biometrics provide a solution?

Complex and cumbersome authentication processes can often be a burden for private banking clients when speaking to an advisor, with the requirement for multiple pass-codes or PINs. Voice biometrics offers a way to take some friction out of the equation. John Schaffer explores how and why the wealth management sector is embracing this technology

The usage of biometrics is certainly becoming more commonplace, from iris recognition at airport passport controls to Apple’s fingerprint authentication for its new Apple Pay mobile payments service. Biometrics is an attractive proposition in terms of security, as the data provided is completely unique to the individual and the need to remember a PIN or complex passwords is foregone, thus presenting advantages for both clients and businesses.

Voice biometrics provides a platform for authenticating customers over the phone without a tirade of security questions. The technology has been attractive for the financial services sector, with banks such as UK’s Barclays Wealth and Investment Management and South Africa-headquartered Investec adopting the technology in the wealth management space. Pennsylvania-based mutual fund manager, Vanguard Group, is also among the many firms using voice biometrics.

On the retail banking side, the list of lenders using voice biometrics is long, from ING in the Netherlands to Garanti Bank in Turkey to Santander in Mexico, to mention a few. 

Massachusetts-headquartered software company Nuance provides voice biometrics authentication systems for a variety of companies, ranging from telecommunications to financial services. It’s also the organisation behind Apple’s Siri technology. The first private bank to adopt Nuance’s voice biometrics technology was Barclays W&IM in 2013, and has reported high levels of customer satisfaction with regards to the solution ever since. Investec rolled out the service in February 2015.

Nuance’s “FreeSpeech” technology, that has been adopted by private banks, analyses the client’s voice consistently throughout the call, rather than requiring a password or phrase.

According to Seb Reeve, director of product management at Nuance, authentication using Freespeech takes approximately eight to ten seconds. Reeve tells PBI:

“Quite early in the conversation we can make an accurate assertion as to whether or not it’s that person, and that’s a continual process. As the conversation progresses, we can start to really define the identity and signal that information to the person inside the bank.”

Reeve adds that the banker is given a signal on his or her desktop in a traffic light system format, where a red light signifies a poor match with the voice print and encourages the advisor to ask questions to challenge the client’s identity. Conversely, a green light signifies that the client is a good match and the interaction can continue without further friction.

According to Ant Allan, research vice president at Gartner, the initial investment for banks to implement a voice biometrics system may be high but a secure system could offset many of the costs associated with clients calling in to change their passwords or report security breaches. He suggests that a robust biometrics system could mitigate some of the phishing attacks that are associated with knowledge-based systems such as PINs.