NAB touts voice as superior biometrics over fingerprints

NAB has poured nearly all of its biometrics effort into voice recognition, as it claims it is three times more secure than using fingerprints to identify customers.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has focused its biometrics attention on voice recognition instead of fingerprinting for customer identification, because it's much more secure and reliable.

NAB has been dabbling with voice recognition since 2009, running a trial in which customers using telephone banking could opt to use their voice as an identifier in lieu of a PIN. Today, there are around 140,000 customers using voice recognition for phone banking.

While ANZ is keen on fingerprint biometrics to replace payment cards and PINs at ATMs, NAB believes that voice recognition is the superior method of biometric customer identification. The bank said it is exploring other biometric options, but that voice is its number one priority.

"Voice has around 120 security points, compared to fingerprint, which has about 40," NAB executive general manager of enterprise transformation Adam Bennett said at a media briefing in Sydney. "It's a very robust approach to security."

Bennett, who previously held the position of CIO at NAB, also believes that customers are much more comfortable using voice recognition, thanks to things like Apple's Siri popularising the technology.

Customers can opt in to use voice-recognition biometrics when they call in to NAB's call centre. The biometric data is stored internally by the bank, and in order to ensure that recorded voice clips can't be used to trick the system, it uses a string of different questions that are difficult for pre-recordings to answer.

Drawing from its experiences with Smart Talk, which was deployed by Telstra, NAB has now announced that it will be rolling out Speech Security, a new, simpler voice-recognition system developed in partnership with Nuance, Telstra, and Salmat Speech Solutions. According to the bank, this would save customers 15 million minutes per year, collectively.

Speech Security will be deployed across NAB's branch network in December.

As part of its lengthy IT transformation program, NAB has upgraded its call-centre operations, consolidating its disparate phone and IT systems into a single platform. This has made it easier and cheaper to deploy voice-recognition technology across the call centres, according to Bennett.

"We're quite comfortable with the pricing and what we're able to achieve," he said. "Especially now, when we can put it on top of a single platform, the economics have become far more attractive."

Biometrics information is particularly sensitive, and there's always a lingering fear that data may fall into the wrong hands. NAB, however, has not found securing biometrics data to be particularly challenging.

"We haven't rushed this," Bennett said. "We have taken small but certain steps, and we feel as though we now have a solution ready to be industrialised."

NAB will consider expanding the application of voice biometrics, including at ATMs, based on demand from customers, he said.

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