How close is a password-free world?

Biometric authentication promises convenience and security in more ways than you can imagine

How will the bank of the future know you? By reading your palm. Or your fingerprint. Your eyes. Or other biological data such as your voice.

It will be through some combination of your physical attributes – which cannot be copied like your signature, lost or stolen like your credit card or wallet, or forgotten like your password or ATM pin. The era of biometrics – the technology-enabled measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics – has arrived.

Hello, is that really you?

When Apple introduced fingerprint authentication, or Touch ID, on smartphone screens as part of its two-factor authentication for Apple Pay transactions in 2013, it hinted at the demise of the password. When you consider that the average internet user has to recall passwords to 92 online accounts, biometrics removes the burden of memory and promises a smoother banking experience.

“Biometric authentication promises to be a game changer”, says Stuart Beaumont, our Global Head, Voice and Virtual, Retail Banking. “Banks are innovating with cutting-edge technologies that will make banking more effortless in the future”.

Biometrics in banking is not limited to fingerprint technology. Leading financial institutions are exploring several physical attributes that can be employed for fast and secure authentication. Fast on the heels of Touch ID is Voice ID. Last year, we rolled out voice biometric technology for phone banking services for clients in India and UAE, with more countries to follow.

Can a computer really differentiate one voice from another? Experts say yes. The human voice has about 100 different characteristics that are identifiable by algorithm, such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, and even physical traits like the size and shape of your mouth.

Other biometric technologies that are being trialled within the industry include finger vein identification, where near-infra-red light is used to check the unique pattern of veins inside the finger; live facial recognition for authentication in remote banking; wearable devices that verify identity based on the heartbeat’s electrical pulses, as well as iris scans and eye prints.

Biometrics is here to stay

In years past, to do your banking meant to walk into your local branch with your personal identification and signature to gain access to your funds. Then came online banking, first introduced in the 1980s, followed by the advent of mobile banking.

The mobile penetration rate has soared, in first world economies as well as in emerging markets. Today, one in four customers in the US prefer to use a smartphone for bank transactions, according to a report by the advisory group Mercator. The accountancy firm KPMG estimates that the number of mobile banking users will double to 1.8 billion by 2019 and argues that Southeast Asia will be a main driver of this trend.

As banking continues to move online, the need to balance convenience and security has made biometrics a very attractive solution. Rather than make customers jump through multiple authentication hoops, biometrics reduces the process to mere seconds.

That doesn’t mean banks can get rid of their fraud detection units – there will still be a need to authenticate identities in question, from a customer whose voice is off due to having a cold or distorted by background noise, to a would-be fraudster using a recorded voice or a fraudulent photo, stolen selfie, or a fingerprint on a stolen mobile phone screen.

Security experts are exploring the possibility of multi-factor biometrics to further reduce the risk of fraud, where access to your account is granted with, for example, the combination of a fingerprint and a selfie.

“Biometrics is here to stay,” says Stuart. “The future for us in banking is getting these methods of authentication across all of the channels through which the bank operates. Clients should be able to use the same method of authentication, whether they walk into a branch, use a mobile app or contact the call centre.”

This article was created by BBC StoryWorks, the commercial content division within BBC Worldwide, and was originally published here (please note the link is not accessible from the UK).