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Voice recognition telephone banking

Last Edit: 19/11/18

Most high street banks in the UK now allow customers to bank using their voice as authorisation via telephone banking. Voice-based recognition and security was pioneered by Barclays in 2013, and was 'rolled out' by banks between 2016-2018. How banks have implemented voice recognition differs: Barclays and HSBC allow customers to login using their voice, whereas Santander still require customers to enter a password to be entered into their mobile app, before they can initiate banking transactions with their voice. Barclays published an article on the 1st of August 2016 -- at their -- outlining how their Voice ID works: stating that their voice biometrics use 100 characteristics of their customers throat, mouth, larynx and nasal passage. Steven Cooper, CEO of Personal Banking at Barclays, stated that a person's voice is as unique as a fingerprint. The benefit of using voice recognition is that, unlike a password, a person's voice cannot be forgotten, and it may increase security, as it is not obvious how fruadsters will steal someone's voice, like they can with a password.

Using a phone to access a bank account
(Pictured: will every UK bank provide Voice ID banking?)

Its not only banks that are creating voice driven software applications, big tech companies have created the following voice recognition devices/tools: Amazon's Alexa and Echo, Google Now, Facebook's M, and Microsoft Cortana. This has led to Capital One creating an Amazon Alexa 'skill', which allows their customers to manage their account -- via their voice -- with any Amazon Alexa enabled device. Capital One customers can ask Alexa the following questions: What's the balance on my credit card?; Pay my credit card bill; What's the due date for my credit card bill?; How much is my next car payment?; How much did I spend at Amazon last week?; and What's my account summary?.

The security of voice recognition banking has come under scrutiny: on the 19th of May 2017, the BBC published an article where their reporter Dan Simmons managed to access his HSBC account by using his non-identical twin brothers voice. In response, a spokesperson for HSBC was reported to state that voice recognition was proving more secure than passwords, pins, or a memorable phrase, but they would not comment on how secure voice recognition was. It is notable that HSBC did not state it was more secure than their Secure Key -- unique code generator -- two-factor authentication device. Security experts do not appear to have arrived at a consensus when it comes to the security of biometrics. The possibility that a voice can be replicated if a company has a few minutes of recorded speech has been noted; which could compromise voice recognition in the future. Which leads to another issue, if a criminal manages to mimic a voice using software, how will a customer prove it was a criminal accessing their account. And, once a criminal can mimic a voice, a customer cannot change their voice, like they can with a password.

Only time will tell whether every high street bank will use voice biometrics to access customer accounts. But, even the banks that currently do not provide this feature (Santander for example) are implementing voice banking technologies to manage customer accounts. Ed Metzger, Head of Technology Innovation at Santander, when referring to voice banking, stated that: “Appetite for simple, intuitive banking solutions has grown significantly in recent years. This pioneering technology has huge potential to become an integral part of the future banking experience, playing a transformational role in the industry and redefining how customers choose to manage their money.” While it is unclear how successful voice banking will prove to be, it is clear that banks are putting all their faith in technology, with Which? reporting that over 2900 bank branches have closed in the UK (from 2015-2018).