Biometrics: Why your voice is your next password



Have you ever picked up the phone to get in touch with a contact centre, been asked for your password as proof of identity, and your mind just goes blank? It happens to us all from time to time, particularly as most of us now have so many different ones it’s hard to keep track of which is which. This can be infuriating, as we end up trawling through backup options in order to demonstrate we are who we say we are. But is there another way?

Maybe there is. Earlier this month, Barclays revealed it was making voice security technology available to all of its customers. This lets the organisation’s phone banking service identify callers based solely on their voice. No more passwords or security questions. How simple is that?

Now this might be just the tip of the iceberg. Voice-based security is part of a wider field of biometric technologies, which are increasingly being utilised by security-conscious organisations. But what exactly is biometrics and what are the pros and cons of its application in banking contact centre security?

What is biometric security?

Simply biometric security means using a person’s distinct biological traits to identify them effectively. This can include fingerprints, iris recognition or, in the case of banking contact centres, voice. Barclays believes this will make the service safer and easier, while also improving safeguards against fraud.

Did you know your voice is comprised of more than 100 characteristics that are defined by the physical configuration of the mouth and throat? This means everyone’s is different, and your voice is just as unique as your fingerprint, in fact even more so. Biometric technology such as that utilised by Barclays works by storing its customers’ ‘unique voice print’ and then using this to verify whether callers are who they claim to be.

The key advantage of this approach to contact centre security is that the unique nature of an individual’s voice print makes it extremely difficult for a fraudster to impersonate someone. It can’t be imitated or stolen, providing a greater level of security.

The key benefits

Voice recognition is one of the fastest ways of effectively verifying an individual’s identity. It is capable of processing a voice and whether it matches to the correct print within seconds, providing a seamless customer experience that is much faster than manual options such as password entry.

Customers are freed from the burden of having to remember various passwords, ID numbers and security answers, making phone banking services more attractive.

According to Barclays, it takes an average of two minutes to get through alternative security measures if an individual has forgotten their password. Call handlers, meanwhile, can engage with customers faster, helping them to build rapport and concentrate on the caller’s needs.

By speeding up the authentication process, voice-based biometrics can reduce the amount of handling time required for each call, which can deliver significant long-term benefits. Staff are free to take more calls and the time saved can be put towards more productive activities.

Addressing the concerns

As with any security solution, voice biometrics is not without its challenges. If voice prints are stored within an internal system they are at risk of being stolen via cyber crime if the necessary level of protection is not in place. Another issue is encouraging customers to actually adopt the service.

It’s natural for people to be wary of changes where their financial security is concerned. After all, we are talking about people’s most sensitive and important details. It might therefore take a while to convince customers that voice biometrics is a secure way for them to access their phone banking service, so it’s important to have a strong user education plan in place. It’s worth noting that Barclays is making the use of its voice recognition service optional rather than mandatory.

While encouraging customer adoption may prove a challenge, at least initially, the benefits of voice biometrics should see the technology become commonplace in contact centres in the near future.

Back in 2013, Barclays was the first bank in Europe to trial this approach and it will be interesting to see how its full-scale rollout fares. With any luck, a world without passwords may be closer than you think.

Learn more about Voice Biometrics