HSBC is rolling out voice recognition and touch ID services for 15 million customers by the summer in a big step towards biometric banking in the UK.
Other banks are also introducing biometric security, but HSBC, which recently suffered an online cyber attack, is the first to roll it out to millions of retail customers.
HSBC and First Direct customers using telephone banking and the mobile app are being offered the chance to access their accounts with a voice and fingerprint verification system. The bank hopes the software will help tackle the issue of forgotten passwords.
Francesca McDonagh, HSBC UK’s head of retail banking and wealth management, described the move as “the largest planned rollout of voice biometric security technology in the UK”.
She said: “The launch of voice and touch ID makes it even quicker and easier for customers to access their bank account, using the most secure form of password technology – the body.”
First Direct will begin to enrol customers for voice ID in coming weeks and HSBC will follow by the summer. Customers who opt in will have to enrol their “voice print” and will no longer need to remember a telephone security password or PIN.
Barclays introduced voice recognition software for all its 300,000 wealthiest clients in the UK in 2013. A year later the bank said the technology had been so successful that it would be rolled out to 12m retail banking customers. Barclays now intends to offer them voice recognition later this year, saying it had been “incredibly popular” with its wealthier clients, with the time taken to verify their identity falling from 1.5 minutes to less than 10 seconds.
Lloyds Banking Group said it was considering whether to introduce the Amazon Echo, a hands-free and voice-controlled device currently only available in the US, for its online banking services. The bank said Britain’s 360,000 blind or partially sighted people could benefit from voice recognition.
Royal Bank of Scotland said touch ID had been a “huge success” after its launch last year, with more than one million customers now logging in with their fingerprint.
In the US, a number of banks have been experimenting with biometrics technology, and Citi has about 250,000 customers who are using voice recognition to authenticate themselves.
Touch ID is available on all new Apple mobile devices for HSBC and First Direct. Customers need to download the mobile banking app and follow the instructions to link their fingerprint to it.
Joe Gordon, UK head of customer contact at HSBC, said the voice recognition would still work if people have a cold. He told the BBC’s Today programme: “We will be able to cope with people who have got colds or slight impediments. Things such as the size of your mouth or your vocal tract don’t change. Neither do your cadence or your accent when you’ve got those little colds.”
Nuance Communications is supplying the voice biometrics technology which works by cross-checking against more than 100 unique identifiers including behavioural features such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, and physical aspects including the shape of larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages.
Together with voice and touch, Britons believe heartbeats, head hair and even saliva could form the passwords of the future, according to a YouGov poll released by HSBC.
The survey shows 38% of people use the same password across most of their online accounts, while 55% say they rarely update their passwords. It found that 78% of 2,038 adults questioned were confident their body was unique enough to be used as a password and that 74% felt this would become the default password of the future.
Tracy Garrad, chief executive of First Direct, said voices and fingerprints were unique, with physical and behavioural characteristics almost impossible to mimic. “While this is the largest rollout of voice ID in UK banking, other industries will soon follow our lead,” she said.
However, Ryan Rubin, managing director at consulting firm Protiviti, warned: “As the technologies themselves are still emerging it is often the implementation of them that brings about security vulnerabilities, not necessarily the techniques themselves. In general biometrics have been known to create false positives and false negatives thereby blocking legitimate access or allowing illegitimate access.”
And Phil Tootell, director at banking consultancy Certeco, said: “The challenge for HSBC – bogged down as they are with legacy IT systems – will be to reduce some of the complexity in their IT architecture, whilst introducing these voice and touch authentication services. If they fail to do this, it will make the cost of the system soar and will also be difficult for HSBC to make changes to this service.”
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