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Barclays streamlines phone banking with voice biometrics

Cliff Saran

Barclays wealth investment management has been using voice biometrics from Nuance for the last six months to streamline authentication when clients call the bank.

The bank has deployed Nuance FreeSpeech in its call centre, which, combined with caller ID, allows a call centre agent to identify customer after just a minute's worth of conversation, he said.

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The project is part of a £300m programme to improve the way the bank services customers. According to Nuance, since implementing the voice biometrics system, 93% of Barclays’ clients scored at least nine out of 10 for the speed, ease of use and security of voice authentication.

Most companies use a form of knowledge-based authentication to verify the identity of a customer telephoning the call centre.

This takes the form of a series of questions, such as asking personal details like a passphrase, for example “mother's maiden name”, or “first school”. However, Matt Smallman, vice-president, global client services at Barclays Wealth, said: ”Knowledge-based authentication is disruptive and gets in the way of client interaction.

No matter how much we train front-line call centre agents to empathise with customers they have to adhere to a three-step fraud detection system.”

The system is constantly running during a call. Agents ask customers if they want to enrol in the authentication system. If they agree, their ID is associated with the recorded voice print. Otherwise, the data collected is discarded. Smallman said the bank initially ran a focus group to assess how customers feel about voice biometrics. Collecting voice biometrics raises privacy concerns, but the questions raised were not show stoppers for the project, and people were given the option to opt-in.

In terms of security, the system runs background statistical analysis on the live call to provide agents with a confidence rating of whether the caller is the person whose voice print is held on file. At Barclays, this rating is presented as a red (for caller identification failed) or green (identified) within the agent's call centre application screen.

The bank takes on the risk, should someone foil the system and run a fraudulent transaction, Smallman is confident the risk is negligible. Following conversations with the bank's chief risk officer, the bank looked at dialling the security setting in the system to balance compliance and security concerns with seamless customer interaction. In terms of risk profiling, he said, “I can have a statistically based conversation [using data from Nuance] with the chief security officer.”

The system has already paid for itself, in terms of requiring less agents' time to manage calls. Smallman said the bank is now looking at how voice biometrics could be used within the rest of Barclays' wealth management infrastructure.


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