HSBC announced today that it would offer biometric banking options, including voice and fingerprint recognition, to all 15 million of its customers by summer 2016. For those customers who elect to use it, these new authentication methods would replace traditional pin and password access to accounts for financial transactions.
Proponents of the technology say that the voice is as unique as a fingerprint, with measures of the physical characteristics of speech (larynx, pharynx, lips, tongue and teeth) as well as cadence, timbre, and accent. Nuance Communications, who will provide the technology to HSBC, has noted that they use over 130 identifying characteristics to compile an individual’s voice profile.
Many studies have cited the ineffectual protection offered by traditional passwords; a study in 2015 showed that 68% of passwords were at least 5 years old and 21% of those more than ten; and the top five most used passwords are still: 12345, 123456, 12345678, password, and qwerty. HSBC head of customer contact, Joe Gordon said, “[Biometric banking] gets rid of the much-maligned passwords to replace them with something more secure.”
Biometric banking has been used by other banks in the past, notably Barclay’s, which rolled out voice recognition to its top 300,000 wealthiest corporate customers in 2014. In the U.S., Citibank has approximately 250,000 customers who have signed up for voice authentication since the company launched the technology in April 2015.
Barclays said that the software was quite popular with customers and that it cut processing time from about 90 seconds to less than 10. Ash Kahn, Citi’s head of information security, said that voice recognition offers customers a “totally different experience” with customer service. Rather than running a gamut of questions and answers with a customer service representative, voice authentication is completed almost instantaneously. “I start talking to the rep, they ask me my card number and that is it.”
While other companies have experimented with voice and fingerprint recognition systems already, HSBC’s announcement comprises the “largest planned rollout of voice biometric security technology in the UK,” according to Francesca McDonagh, HSBC UK head of retail banking and wealth management. “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.”
Touch ID is currently available for both HSBC and First Direct customers for use on appropriate mobile devices. Voice recognition is currently being tested, and is expected to be available to all UK customers this summer.