Barclays Customers Can Now Have Their IDs Verified at ‘Hello’

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Colour59The “voice revolution” is about to make consumer banking a whole lot faster and easier.

This week, Barclays announced that it is expanding its voice authentication program to all 12 million retail customers who call the bank, expanding the program it launched four years ago in its wealth management division. Which means the bank will have you at “hello” if you are an impersonator.

Voice is all the rage. Just watch Gen Z with their mobile phones. They are more likely to talk messages than type them, or they ask for help from Siri, which is based on technology from Nuance Communications, the brains behind Barclays voice program. Typing, passwords  — they are just so 2010.

Barclays joins HSBC and Citibank, among other major banks who are ditching passwords in favor of voice biometrics.

For financial institutions, the legacy password system is costly on many levels: It’s vulnerable to fraud; it’s time-consuming (about two minutes to authenticate a forgotten password), and customers hate it. Turns out, your voice is unique, like a fingerprint, and can be verified in seconds.

Forgotten passwords are much more common these days, says Brett Beranek, director, product strategy, voice biometrics at Nuance Communications. Customers call their financial institutions less often and usually for a specific reason — to report a move or a lost credit card. Who remembers those arcane passwords? Meanwhile, call agents are under pressure “to keep calls short and keep customers happy.” Beranek adds: “Humans inherently tend to give the benefit of the doubt to others and it allows them to do their jobs.” So they give helpful hints to callers who “forgot” their passwords, speeding the process. Earlier this year, Fusion editor Kevin Roose watched a phishing expert convince a call center agent to create a new password on his cell phone account and get private information.

Pindrop Labs estimates that call center fraud grew 45% between 2013 and 2015, to one in every 2,000 calls at an estimated loss of $0.65/call. When credit card companies switched to chip technology in the U.K., call fraud surged because chip technology is harder to circumvent. It’s now twice as prevalent in the U.K. as in the U.S. Pindrop Labs expects criminals to focus more on US call centers now that chip technology has landed here.

At Barclays, customers will need to opt-in to be part of the FreeSpeech system and will then be asked to record their voices. How does the system know if the person at the other end of the line is the real deal? You can’t know for sure, says Beranek. But, he notes, thieves are unlikely to willingly record themselves. It’s like leaving fingerprints at the scene of a crime.

In the next few years, Beranek says we shouldn’t be surprised to see voice authentication on mobile apps. Users will be able to say, Hi. It’s me. Let’s pay the balance on my credit card. And, bam, you’re done. Already, Tangerine Bank in Canada and U.S. Bank are testing these virtual assistants.

Below, watch an expert phisher take control of a cell phone account. The fun begins at 2 minutes.

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