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Singapore banks adopt voice biometrics for user authentication

Banks in Singapore are rolling out biometric technology to improve customer services by speeding up the authentication process

Citi is launching voice Biometric verification for customers in Singapore to help to cut user authentication time.

The bank has already implemented voice biometrics for consumer customers in Taiwan, with Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia to follow soon. The service will be available to all 12 of Citi’s consumer banking markets in Asia-Pacific by 2017.

Citi expects at least one million of its 15 million consumer banking customers in the Asia-Pacific region to use voice recognition technology for authentication in the next 12 months. The number of users is expected to grow to three million within three years.

The capability uses complex mathematical algorithms to identify customers through their voiceprint, which, like a fingerprint, is unique to each person. A voiceprint cannot be reverse engineered once stored.

“Today, our call centres in Asia-Pacific receive about 35 million calls annually, of which a large portion are manually verified. With voice biometric authentication, we will make the verification process easier, faster and more secure for clients,” said Rahul Joshi, head for consumer banking operations Asia-Pacific, at Citi.

Customers calling the bank’s contact centres can expect to have their identity automatically verified in 15 seconds or less as they explain their reason for calling. This is a reduction from an average of 45 seconds it takes to verifying their details currently – or 66% less time.

“With voice biometric authentication, we will make the verification process easier, faster and more secure for clients”
Rahul Joshi, Citi

Singapore’s DBS Bank and OCBC Bank also plan to implement voice biometric authentication.

DBS expects the technology to reduce the time customers spend on authentication by between 20 and 40 seconds. The bank receives more than five million calls each year from its consumer banking customers in Singapore.

Voice biometrics is more secure, said Lena Low, executive director of Customer Centre at DBS, as customers do not need to remember their PIN or divulge personal information in public when on the phone to customer service officers.

OCBC Bank launched speech recognition at its contact centre in April 2016, and will launch voice biometrics to all its retail customers later in the year.

Read more about biometric authentication in the banking sector

  • HSBC will boost mobile banking security by enabling more than 15 million customers to access accounts online using voice or fingerprint recognition biometric technologies.
  • As banks struggle to secure their online transactions with two-factor authentication, one bank has chosen a fingerprint biometric system, with very good results.
  • MasterCard rolls out fingerprint and facial recognition identification technology for online payments following a successful Dutch pilot.

According to Praveen Raina, senior vice-president, group operations and technology, at OCBC, speech recognition has been well accepted by customers because it reduces the time it takes to get help without having to navigate a menu of options.

Barriers to layered security

Biometrics represents the next layer in multifactor authentication (MFA), said Ho Sui-Jon, market analyst at IDC Financial Insights Asia-Pacific.

He said most formal online financial transactions today are typically guarded by two-factor authentication (2FA) schemes that are a combination of “something the user knows” with “something the user possesses”.

The third-factor introduced by biometrics adds “something the user is” – a set physiological traits that may include fingerprint, iris pattern or voice, said Ho.

“Conceptually, this is an attractive proposition that will allow financial institutions to introduce a completely new safeguard that reinforces existing authentication processes, while leveraging the growing availability and sophistication of consumer mobile hardware and merchant point-of-sale devices.”

The hurdle for biometric authentication today is its strong hardware and software dependency, according to Ho.

“Not all consumers have compatible devices to support fingerprint scanning, the quality of sound capture varies from phone to phone and is not regulated by a common industry standard, and merchant biometric requires investment in specialised tools which most stakeholders may be hesitant to bear,” said Ho.

“Whether or not biometrics will make it into ASEAN’s [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] mainstream adoption will depend on how well all parts of the financial, retail and device ecosystems work to raise the availability and acceptability of the technology,” he added. 

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