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February 19, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 5:10pm

HSBC banks on biometrics as mobile banking gets voice & fingerprint security

News: 15m customers will have access to biometric security

By Charlotte Henry

The death of the password has come a step closer to becoming a reality, with news that HSBC and first direct will introduce fingerprint and voice recognition tools for their customers.

The biometric security will be made available to 15 million customers. HSBC UK’s head of retail banking and wealth management, Francesca McDonagh said: "This is the largest planned roll out of voice biometric security technology in the UK, and demonstrates our continued investment in digital innovation and focus on making our services even more convenient for our customers.

"The launch of voice and touch ID makes it even quicker and easier for customers to access their bank account, using the most secure form of password technology – the body."

The voice recognition technology will be supplied by Nuance Communications. It cross-checks against over 100 unique identifiers, including behavioural aspects such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, as well as physical aspects including the shape of larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages.

Customers that want to opt-in to the service will have to add their "voice-print" but are then not required to remember their current telephone security password letters or PIN.

It will be introduced for first direct customers in the coming weeks and HSBC customers later in 2016.

The banks have now also turned on touch ID on their apps on Apple devices, meaning mobile banking can be accessed via a fingerprint.

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The news has received a positive reception from industry and security experts.

Bob Tarzey, Analyst and Director at Quocirca told CBR: "It is another step in the road to at least putting in place strong authentication than just passwords, but you have to do it in phases, and there’s quite a lot of initiatives in the industry to make sure people have options about how they authenticate themselves."

He said though that "user choice must be maintained."

Anthony Duffy, Director of Retail Banking in UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, said: "Biometric-based security systems are highly accurate, cost-effective and scalable. They deepen and strengthen bank defences by providing an unequivocal link to an individual, event or transaction while being very hard to forge."

A range of popular smartphone makers, notably Apple and Samsung, have begung introducing fingerprints as a method of securing, andDuffy said that this has helped the banking sector deploy the technology more widely.

"British banks are now looking at biometric solutions with new eyes," said Duffy. "The emergence of mobile ‘phones which are locked and unlocked using a fingerprint has made this easy-to-use technology familiar to a new mass market."

Tarzey said that "more and more users are realising they’ve got this capability, and starting to think it’s a good idea. So the fact that a bank like HSBC is now rolling out this option is good because, to be honest, the banks are bit behind the times with some of this strong authentication and yet they’re dealing with our most sensitive data."

Duffy points out that "Deployment of biometric technologies in Britain’s banking is still in its infancy," but thinks it "will become commonplace."

Duffy said that as people become more comfortable with the technology, thanks to using it on their mobile phones and other devices, and begin to appreciate the security benefits it can bring, financial services will increasingly roll it out.

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