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New biometric authentication solution verifies a voice without requiring specific words

Nuance Communications solution adopted by Barclays Wealth & Investment Management

When a high-value client calls Barclays Wealth and Investment Management, the financial services organization doesn’t want to annoy the client by asking the usual security questions, notes Matt Smallman, Client Experience Strategy and Change exec at the firm. Other than the time spent on authentication, the client may sometimes not recall what answer they gave to a security question such as their favorite pet. On the other hand, the caller’s identity must be validated.

Nuance Communications gave the firm a solution to this problem through its FreeSpeech voice biometrics technology, an on-premises licensed software solution. With FreeSpeech, the enrollment and authentication do not require specific passwords be used. The customer is told an enrollment is taking place initially, but it occurs by collecting speech during a conventional conversation between the agent and customer. On a subsequent call, the customer is authenticated by 20 to 30 seconds of conversation, part of which can be the customer’s request for a transaction. The agent is notified after that much speech has been collected that the customer has passed the security threshold. If not, further authentication measures will be necessary, but Smallman indicated that this is seldom the case. He noted that the FreeSpeech approach has a natural protection against the use of recorded speech (e.g., from a wiretap of a previous conversation by the customer), since the recorded speech is unlikely to make sense in the context of the transaction. (Nuance does have countermeasures against recorded speech in speech authentication using vocal passwords.)

FreeSpeech also allows more effective outbound marketing to existing customers, Smallman said. The agent can be sure they are talking to the registered customer in a short period of time without requesting authentication information. The FreeSpeech technology is attractive, Smallman said, in that it takes a customer-centric point of view, making the interaction serve the customer better rather than discomfiting the customer to serve a bank objective.

Brett Beranek, Solutions Marketing Manager, Enterprise Division, Nuance, noted that the technology has been deployed before, for example, by the First Direct Bank, a member of the Leumi Group. This installation went further by comparing voices to a list of voices in a watch group created from the recordings of imposters, alerting the agent when there was a possible match and triggering additional security measures. First Direct reported increased customer satisfaction as well as reduced average call duration.

Since its introduction, more than 84% of Barclays’ customers have enrolled in the Nuance voice biometrics solution, with 95% of those customers successfully verified upon their first use of the system. Customer feedback with the contact center experience has improved, with 93% of customers rating Barclays at least 9 of 10 for the speed, ease of use, and security of the new authentication system.

The underlying speech authentication detects phonemes in the speech, Beranek explained, allowing it to try to match phonetic characteristics in speech being authenticated. Thus, the biometrics can, for example, be specific to particular vowel or consonant sounds, as opposed to the overall spectrum of a long speech segment.

Nuance is of course still offering its text-dependent voice authentication option. Beranek said that there are more than million voiceprints being used commercially. A recent Nuance survey concluded that 90% of consumers would prefer voice biometrics for authentication over passwords and personal questions.

Since its introduction, more than 84% of Barclays’ customers have enrolled in the Nuance voice biometrics solution, with 95% of those customers successfully verified upon their first use of the system. Better still, customer feedback with the contact center experience has improved, with 93% of customers rating Barclays at least 9 of 10 for the speed, ease of use and security of the new authentication system.

Beranek cited a talk at the recent Voice Biometrics Conference by Smallman, where the Barclays exec shared how during one of his recent visits to one of Barclays Wealth call centers, an agent approached him and stated that “Voice Biometrics has changed my life,” explaining that she now has the opportunity to establish an emotional connection with the customer, which was not possible when the call started with an interrogation process.

The Wall Street Journal added to the growing credibility of voice authentication technology with a recent article: Banks Eye Voice Biometrics to Verify Customers (CIO Journal – May 9, 2013). In addition to Barclays, the Journal cited brokerage firms Vanguard Group and TD Waterhouse as current users of the technology.

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