Sunday 17 December 2017

The death of passwords: HSBC launches voice and fingerprint ID

Customers will no longer have to use passwords to access their bank accounts on the phone or via the iPhone app at HSBC and First Direct

HSBC is considering relocating to Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
HSBC is considering relocating to Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Tim Wallace

Biometric identification is about to replace passwords at HSBC and First Direct, as the bank rolls out fingerprint and voice recognition systems.

As many as 15m customers will be able to use the system, which the bank says should be quicker, easier and more secure than using passwords.

The bank argues that the biometric security system is safer than current log-ins as customers can forget passwords and leave themselves vulnerable to cyber criminals by using the same password across many different online accounts.

Joe Gordon, HSBC's head of customer contact, said: "This gets rid of the much-maligned passwords to replace them with something more secure - you don't have to remember where you lived when you were five, or your inside leg measurement."

Customers who opt into the service will provide a voice print to the bank, which analyses the speed at which they talk as well as their cadence and pronunciation, which the bank says provides 100 “signifiers” that mark the customer out as a unique individual.

You don't have to remember where you lived when you were five, or your inside leg measurement

Joe Gordon, HSBC

From then on, customers should be able to access the account by reading a set phrase, such as “my voice is my password” or by reading their account number and date of birth, rather than giving passwords.

Mr Gordon said the system works even when customers have a cold or other illness that could affect their speech.

“It takes more than 100 different measurements, so for most people even with a cold, the vocal tract doesn’t change, and behavioural factors such as the speed of speech, their accent and pronunciation are still there,” he said.

“In those cases where we still cannot, which are few and far between, they can be put through to an adviser to go through verification in the normal way.”

The bank is trialling the voice recognition system in the coming weeks and hopes to unveil it to the public before the summer. In recent days it has started offering fingerprint verification to customers who want to access their account via their iPhone.

Other banks have also taken steps towards abolishing passwords.

Lloyds Banking Group tested a system for customers to tap their debit cards on their smartphones to identify them, and it even developed a heartbeat recognition device to illustrate the potential uses of biometrics.

Royal Bank of Scotland also uses the iPhone’s fingerprint recognition system, while Barclays rolled out a finger scanner that uses the blood flow in a customer’s hands to verify the account-holder’s identity for substantial payments.

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