Auraya - Biometric security solutions: the power of the customer voice

Biometric security comes in many forms and banks have shown themselves keen to adopt many different types, but one technology above all may serve their desire to improve customer service and regulatory compliance: voice biometrics. Clive Summerfield of Auraya Systems tells us why.

When headlines about data breaches are coming thick and fast, the issue of customer privacy or data security has quickly risen to the top of the agenda. Add in regulatory changes, not least the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) in Europe, which demand strong customer authentication and secure communications, and it is no surprise that banks are looking to invest in new security technologies.

At the same time, banks want technologies to improve customer service and not detract from it, and customers demand that contacting their bank be swift and simple, as well as secure.

"Banks are driven by two competing requirements. First and foremost, they want to improve customer service. Interactions must be convenient, quick, efficient and intuitive, or customers will walk away. In retail banking, customers will always want the best financial products, but those products are highly commoditised, so the only way banks can differentiate banking services is through enhancing customer service. Banks must counterbalance customer demand for enhanced customer convenience with regulatory constraints relating to improved security and strong identity authorisation," explains Clive Summerfield, founder and CEO of Auraya Systems. "In effect, the banks are caught between two diametrically opposed business requirements."

"Voice biometrics solves both problems in a single solution. Like your fingerprint, your voice is unique. So, like a fingerprint, banks can use voice to implement strong identity authentication that significantly enhances security while streamlining customer identity authentication and also enhancing customer convenience. No PINs to remember; no passwords to forget," he adds.

Auraya Systems is the company behind the ArmorVox; billed as the world's most advanced core voice biometrics engine. Based on Auraya's proprietary speaker adaptive voice biometrics algorithms, ArmorVox uses new machine learning algorithms to automatically optimise accuracy and performance for the language, accent and dialects of the speakers enrolled in the system. ArmorVox is used widely in call centres and help desks, prison services, mobile security, national security and intelligence applications around the world. "It is the culmination of 20 years of research, development and implementation experience, and, for banks, it epitomises the advantages of voice-based systems," adds Summerfield.

A win-win solution

Improving security and the customer experience plays very well with the banks and customers, but what really excites the banks is the opportunity for voice biometrics to drive operational efficiencies, save money and benefit the bottom line.

"In call centres, voice biometrics can rapidly reduce costs," Summerfield explains. "Typically, around 30% of the call is spent identifying the customer through asking the caller to confirm personal information such as name, address, date of birth, telephone number and mother's maiden name. A voice biometrics system can reliably authenticate a customer from them simply speaking their account number, telephone number or a phrase, for example. This can be performed automatically in the IVR (Interactive Voice Response system) at the start of the call. Once authenticated, the caller can be passed to the call centre agent (or associate) as an authenticated caller with no need for the customer to share their personal information with the agent.

"This not only drives efficiencies in the call centre, but it also enhances data privacy as it eliminates the need for the customer to share their personal identity information with the bank associate. All the banking associate needs to know is that the voice on the telephone matches the voiceprint of the customer," Summerfield explains.

The technology is already widely used by a number of banks, with the most established deployments evident in the southern hemisphere.

For example, Summerfield notes that over 60% of the population of New Zealand use voice biometrics to access government services and well over 30% of retail customers of Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) use voice biometrics to authenticate their identity for access to call centres and secure customer telephone self-service applications.

Banks in Australia have followed the lead, and the next phase will be more widespread adoption in other regions of the world.

In fact, the technology has already started to spread further afield in the banking sector. In the UK, for example, Barclays has rolled out voice biometrics technology, initially for a select group of customers accessing their accounts through client service centres. Barclays wealth management is among the first to deploy a passive voice security solution that automatically verifies its banking customers in the background as they speak with a service centre executive.

"From a commercial perspective, voice biometrics is at the start of its journey. Over the past 20 years, voice biometrics technology has gone from laboratory curiosity in university research groups to a strategic security feature for effective and efficient customer service in banking. It is now being deployed on a larger scale and, for those that have used it, it has become the obvious choice. For banks, it all begins with customer acceptance, and once that is established, we see fast adoption as the efficiency and economic benefits of the technology become proven in commercial deployments," notes Summerfield.

"Like many industries, most banks are fast followers of a few highly innovative organisations. Once a new customer service technology arrives, like voice biometrics has proved, banks need to move quickly to match their rivals in adopting said solution. This is the effect we are now seeing in the banking market, with major banks now adopting voice biometrics for automatic authentication of their retail customers," he adds.

The familiar face of biometrics

Looked at in a broader market, biometrics systems of different kinds have already become commonplace in many environments. Take border control, for instance, where face recognition is increasingly found in airports. Many smartphones incorporate fingerprint readers, and many new smartphone applications use the fingerprint reader to unlock devices and secure applications, such as mobile banking. So it is only a small step to using voice as a unique identifier.

While, voice biometrics may be less familiar to customers and businesses than fingerprint or face recognition, it is fast becoming the preferred biometric for customer services in banking and finance.

Specifically, stronger regulation relating to know your customer (KYC) to combat fraud and increasing identity theft is certainly fuelling the pace of adoption of voice biometrics in the banking sector. The spread of social media is making it very easy for identity thieves to collect enough personal information, PINs and passwords to easily break into their bank accounts through online and telephone customer service channels. In response, banking regulators worldwide are increasingly mandating stronger identity authentication across all customer services channels, including the telephone channel. And while there are a number of security options in online channels, such as hardware and software tokens, or one-time SMS PINs, voice biometrics is the only technology that provides the required security to meet the regulator's requirements in the telephone customer services channel. Indeed, there is no reason why voice biometrics cannot be used across all customer service channels, including emerging digital channels as well as legacy telephone channels. Voice biometrics is unique in enabling the banks to offer the customer a unified approach to identity authentication across all customer services channels. The same words or phrases used to authenticate in the call centre can also be used to authorise transactions through a customer's mobile application.

The past few years have seen fraud in the telephone channel increase significantly. This is in part due to the abundance of personal information freely available through social networks (such as Facebook), and in part due to the increased level of security deployed by banks in their online and digital channels. In effect, call centres have become the "soft target" for fraudsters. However, voice biometrics stops that kind of fraud dead in its tracks. Given that voice is a biometric, it can be used to identify the fraudulent speaker directly. In fact, most smart fraudsters know this and it acts as a powerful deterrent in the telephone channel. After all, once a fraudster's voice is recorded in a voice biometrics system, it is relatively easy to identify and track the fraudster attempting to access services through the telephone channel. Our experience has been that a fraudster's most common response when encountering voice biometrics is to slam the phone down before their voice can be recorded," remarks Summerfield.

Overall, banks can benefit in so many ways from voice biometrics that it will not be long before a technology that reduces operating costs, adds convenience for customers, improves regulatory compliance and enhances privacy will become commonplace.

"I predict that the next ten years will see most banks adopt voice biometrics because of the obvious customer and commercial benefits," says Summerfield. "And fraud in the telephone channel will all but disappear."

Clive Summerfield, founder and CEO of Auraya Systems.