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HSBC launches biometric security for mobile banking in the UK

Bank claims UK’s largest planned roll-out of voice biometric security technology, with more than 15 million customers in line for voice and fingerprint authentication services

HSBC will boost mobile banking security by enabling more than 15 million customers to access accounts online using voice or fingerprint recognition biometric technologies.

The system will be rolled out first for customers of HSBC’s First Direct internet and phone banking division in the coming weeks and for the rest of HSBC’s customers in the summer.

Industry commentators said this is a leap forward for biometrics technology being used in the UK banking industry for authentication of account holders.

Barclays has been using voice authentication in call centres since 2013 and in 2014 announced plans to introduce finger vein recognition technology, but only for high-worth and corporate customers.

All HSBC customers will have access to fingerprint authentication services using the fingerprint readers built into Apple’s iPhones in combination with HSBC’s mobile banking app.

Like Barclays, HSBC is using Nuance Communications voice recognition technology, which uses more than 100 unique identifiers to identify a speaker.

These identifiers include features such as speed, cadence and pronunciation as well as the effect of physical features such as the shape of the speaker’s larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages.

Once HSBC and First Direct customers have registered their finger and voice prints, they will no longer need to remember security passwords or personal identification numbers.

“This is the largest planned roll-out of voice biometric security technology in the UK,” said Francesca McDonagh, HSBC UK’s head of retail banking and wealth management.

The move is aimed at introducing a quicker, easier and more secure way for customers to access their bank accounts.

Passwords have long been considered a weak form of security because they are easily forgotten by users and easily stolen, guessed or brute forced by cyber criminals.

Read more about biometric security

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  • The uniqueness of fingerprints, retinas and the other biological features that biometric authentication relies on is the security tool’s greatest asset.

More than one-third of UK consumers use the same password across most of their online accounts and more than half rarely update their passwords, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by HSBC.

The survey also found that 78% of more than 2,000 adult respondents were confident that their body is unique enough to be used as an identifier and 74% felt this would be the default password in future.

In recent years, most financial institutions have been investigating the possibility of using biometrics for authentication as most see this as the best replacement for passwords.

In January 2015, Visa Europe published the results of a survey that showed the new generation of banking customers would rather use biometric security devices than PINs and passwords.

The survey showed that 75% of 16 to 24-year-olds would have no problem using biometric security, with 69% expecting it to be faster and easier than a password or a PIN.

In Poland, more than 1,700 cash machines have been equipped with finger vein technology, allowing people to scan their finger to withdraw money from an ATM, with no need for a card or PIN number.

Outside Europe, palm vein technology is being used in the Japanese banking sector to provide advanced security at ATMs.

The adoption of biometric authentication technology is expected to gain momentum not only in the banking industry, but also the related payments industry, with the likes of MasterCard and Zwipe developing a payment card with a built-in fingerprint authentication sensor, which would work like Apply Pay’s use of fingerprinting to authenticate payments via NFC.

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