HSBC and first direct bring biometric banking to the mainstream

HSBC and first direct are planning the UK’s largest roll out of voice biometric security technology.

HSBC will also introduce touch ID for mobile banking customers.

The move comes after rivals RBS and NatWest offering finger print technology for the last year, and weeks ahead of the launch of mobile-only Atom Bank, which will incorporate a face recognition system.

“They are being forced by start-ups, such as Atom, who are basing their entire banking experience on apps and social media services,” Phil Tootell, Director at banking consultancy Certeco commented.

“HSBC has also recently suffered a security breach that affected digital services for customers. It’s about time that a strong position was taken on customer authentication in the FS space – banks suffer 300% more cyber attacks than other sectors and it’s an issue the FCA is championing,” Tootell said.

HSBC places emphasis on security

HSBC says it will deliver a superior and more secure banking experience for its 15 million customers by the summer.

The new security processes will enable customers to access their accounts – mobile app and telephone banking – through advanced technologies that use the unique characteristics of an individual’s body, specifically voice and fingerprint, to verify an account holder’s identity.

HSBC UK’s Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management, Francesca McDonagh said: “This is the largest planned roll out of voice biometric security technology in the UK. 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.“

Alternatives to passwords

The launch of biometric technology for HSBC and first direct is supported by new online consumer research findings from YouGov which reveal over a third (37%) of consumers agree traditional passwords have become an outdated security measure.

The YouGov research also revealed over a third (38%) of people tend to use the same password across most of their online accounts, and over half (55%) say that they rarely update their passwords. This approach to online security could potentially make it easier for hackers to obtain personal or financial data.

Encouragingly, around three quarters of people are already confident their body is unique enough to be used as a password and it will become the default password of the future (78% and 74% respectively).

The science behind the technology

The voice biometrics technology being used by HSBC and first direct works by cross-checking against over 100 unique identifiers and includes both behavioural features such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, and physical aspects including the shape of larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages. For customers that choose to opt-in, they simply enrol their ‘voice print’ and are no longer required to remember or recite their current telephone security password letters or PIN.

“We will be able to cope with people who have got colds or slight impediments,” Joe Gordon, UK head of Customer Contact at HSBC, told the BBC.

“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.”

first direct will begin to enrol customers for voice ID in the coming weeks and will be followed by HSBC by the summer. Touch ID is currently available on all Apple mobile devices for both HSBC and first direct. Customers simply need to download the mobile banking app and follow the instructions to link their fingerprint to it.

Voice biometric security is not new technology

An example of voice biometrics in practice is Tatra Bank in Slovakia. First introduced in 2013, and now with more than 250,000 registered customer voice samples (one third of the whole customer database of the bank), the average time of client identification process has been reduced 66% – to an average of just 27 seconds per customer. Now, 85% of all calls to the bank’s contact centre that require authentication are verified by voice.

“Voice biometric security has been with us for a few years now, and while experts claim that it’s the future of security, the reality is that the uptake has been relatively slow to date. However, it has the potential to replace the password or PIN-based identity verification, which we all acknowledge is antiquated and has many failings from both the business and consumer perspectives,” said Martin Hummel, Voice Biometrics Consultant, Soitron UK.

First Direct have added more information to its website about the system for mobile banking, including some helpful FAQs.


Edited from sources by Cecilia Rehn.



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