Has biometrics come of age in mobile banking?

Digital-only bank Atom's customers use face and voice biometrics to verify their identities. Are you ready to follow suit?

Has biometrics come of age in mobile banking?

Digital-only bank Atom opened to the public in April. Its customers use face and voice biometrics to verify their identities. Are you ready to follow suit?  

Atom is far-removed from most traditional banks. Aimed at a generation that has grown up in a world surrounded by smart, connected technology, Atom has done away with high street branches and paper documents. Instead, it offers an innovative, totally virtual, customer-centric experience that promises to ensure the online experience is kept simple, yet secure, for the user.

At the core of Atom’s user experience lies its mobile banking app. Biometrics, available on most modern smartphones, are used to verify the identity of the app user as and when required. Facial recognition, where the user simply looks into their phone, is complemented by voice recognition that asks them to speak a short phrase.

So I ask myself, “has the biometrics that we’ve been talking about for so many years finally come of age?”

Why now?

Biometrics has been around for a long time, and for years it’s looked like being the Next Big Thing in banking technology without ever actually becoming it.

Some may say it’s simply a split in attitude between the generations:

  • Brought up with traditional identity verification by signature, and more recently with usernames and passwords, the older generation has been somewhat cautious, even suspicious, of biometric technology’s ability to keep their finances safe.
  • More comfortable with living in today’s virtual world, the younger generation is less entrenched and willing try any new technologies that make their lives easier.

Nevertheless, whether we’ve resisted them or not, two trends have recently come together to make ‘now’ the right time for banking biometrics:

  • Firstly, the Millennials have come of age. This younger tech-savvy generation needs a whole wealth of financial products, and expects its experience with them to be as engaging as the experience the tech giants give them.
  • Secondly, biometrics technology has matured into a fast and reliable solution that offers a frictionless experience. Fraudsters find it extremely difficult to copy our identifying characteristics – whether fingerprints, finger veins, iris, voice, face or any other biometric.

A critical banking technology

Proven, widespread and affordable, biometrics is much more than just the latest cool technology. Now mature enough to provide the ultimate strong authentication as a standalone solution, biometrics is fast becoming critical for protecting not only our bank accounts but also our personal data in our increasingly virtual world.

For financial institutions, biometrics provides an easy-to-use, robust means to verify identities digitally, at a time when digital has become a critical part of their strategy and their customers are looking for a simple, yet feature-rich, digital interaction. In fact, the technology holds the key to their future success as they look to compete with new digital-only providers.

Evolving over time

Banks should look to assess the technology offered by best-of-breed biometrics providers today and understand which technology best suits any given situation.

Currently, finger vein technology, with its specialist technology reader, might work in a branch but not with a smartphone app, for instance.

More than that, banks should also position themselves to be able to adopt new types of biometric technology – DNA analysis being the ultimate biometric – and work with new technology partners as new types of biometric emerge and become viable.

Encouraging adoption

While Millennials have been keen to adopt biometric technologies, older generations still need some persuasion.

To gain their trust, banks may need to educate them about the reliability of the technology. To encourage them to try it, banks may need to educate them about the benefits of the technology. To ensure they continue to use it, banks must ensure their initial experience is simple, positive, and delivers on the promised benefits. After all, they may not be willing to give it a second chance – for a while at least.

My conclusion is that biometrics has at last come of age in the banking world. Is it part of your digital strategy?

You might also be interested in our opinion paper: The Financial Services industry must set a higher security standard in the fight against cybercrime [PDF]