Faced with rising identity theft-based fraud, many financial institutions are deploying complex and
expensive counter measures. However, effective security solutions need not necessarily be
complex or costly, as two experts in the field of biometric voice identification explained to BPA.

The essence of security for financial institutions is verification of customer identities, a task for which PINs are being found to be increasingly inadequate.

Adding to financial institutions’ problems, the downside of many other more effective security solutions being deployed is negative customer reaction to their complexity and increased inconvenience.

For banks looking for a simple yet extremely effective security solution, the answer could well be voice biometrics which has long been used by other industries to identify customers accessing their call centres but has not been extensively deployed by financial institutions.

For banks and other financial companies seeking a highly effective yet a comparatively low-cost addition to their security arsenals, it is “almost madness” not to deploy voice biometrics, says Ian Turner, European general manager of speech and imaging solutions specialist Nuance.

Turner told BPA that voice biometric technology has proved itself to be highly effective over many years, and when used for customer verification in high voice traffic call centre environments results in automation levels of up to 90 percent and “huge cost savings”.

US-headquartered Nuance is one of the pioneers in voice biometrics and today has deployments with more than 200 companies worldwide.

Consumer education

Of key importance for financial institutions opting for voice biometrics is to seek the right advice on specific requirements and implementation, stressed Turner.

Also of crucial importance is to convince customers, already inundated with technology, of its simplicity, he added.

Fortunately, the big appeal of voice biometric security is its simplicity. All it requires of a customer is phoning an automated call centre is to speak a simple phrase when prompted. This phrase is then used to verify his or her identity in no more than one and a half seconds, explained Turner.

Once customers realise how simple and non-evasive voice biometrics is, most like it and it gains wide acceptance, he added.

While other forms of biometric identity verification such as fingerprints and iris scans are used in certain security applications none are, of course, suited to the primary means of customer communication, the telephone.

The advent of the mobile phone has also opened up other uses of voice biometrics in the security arena. For example, voice biometrics is well suited to form part of a two-factor security solution in which one leg is a code sent via a mobile phone and the other voice verification via a call to the phone.

Australia sets the pace

Turner predicts in the next few years there will be a “ramp-up” in adoption by banks and other financial institutions of voice biometrics as part of a multi-layer security solution.

The first signs of his prediction being realised are already appearing in Australia, where one of the most ambitious voice identification projects by a financial institution was launched in June by National Australia Bank (NAB).

“Our objective is to provide customers with a more convenient, faster and easy-to-use telephone banking experience while simultaneously improving identity security,” said NAB Personal Banking executive general manager Warren Shaw at the launch.

For deployment of its voice biometrics service, NAB selected as technology partner Salmat VeCommerce (SVC), a unit of Salmat, an Australian company with interests including communications, financial services security and business process outsourcing and automation. Driving the solution, VeConnect, is Nuance voice verification technology, noted Turner.

The rollout by NAB is being undertaken in phases, explained Brett Feldon, a general manager with SVC. Ultimately, NAB envisages offering voice identification to its 3.3 million personal banking customers as an alternative to PINs and passwords.

To use the NAB voice biometric service, customers are required to enrol by speaking a unique identifier which is converted to a numerical algorithm and entered into a database. Enrolment takes about two minutes

Whenever an enrolled customer phones the bank their voice is compared to those existing in the database to determine a match using some 100 specific identifiers.

According to SVC, two parameters are used in its verification solution to assess accuracy: the false reject rate (FRR), and the false accept rate (FAR). The point at which the FAR equals the FRR is known as the equal error rate (EER) and the lower the EER, the more accurate the system is considered to be.

Based on EER, SVC reports achieving accuracy rates of over 99 percent with voice verification compared with EERs of 92 percent for fingerprints and 75 percent for face recognition technologies. Only iris scanning exceeds voice verification accuracy.

High consumer acceptance

“Acceptance of NAB’s voice identification service has so far been very positive,” said Feldon.

In general, he continued, once customers are made familiar with voice identification the take-up rate is in excess of 99 percent.

Underscoring Turner’s view on the positive outlook for voice biometrics, Feldon said he believed indications point to “a big take-up” of voice identification by financial institutions. Unlike many other forms of identification security there is a positive trade off for both banks and customers in terms of security and convenience, he stressed.

Notably, in Australia, SVC has also recently completed installation of a VeConnect voice identification solution for life insurer Aviva Australia which is in the process of being acquired by NAB.

“Australian financial institutions are leading in the adoption of voice identification,” said Feldon. “Lots of other financial institutions worldwide will be watching the progress made by NAB and Aviva with great interest.”