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Past passwords

PINs, passwords and security questions are going the way of VCRs, pay phones, and cheque writing, writes Oksana Walton, pictured, Enterprise Solutions Marketing Manager at the US-based computer software company Nuance Communications.

Like these relics from another time, authentication technology has evolved to offer a better alternative for the digital world we live in. The growing risk of security hacks and customer frustration with the number and complexity of the passwords they need to manage are driving forces behind the increased adoption of voice biometrics. As we’ve discussed, an individual’s voice is unique to them in the same way as DNA, fingerprints and facial features are. By analysing over 100 unique voice characteristics – from physical factors to behavioral characteristics such as pitch and accent – sophisticated algorithms are able to verify identity. The process is secure, effortless and fast, satisfying the needs of both consumers and businesses. Now I’d like to delve into how voice biometrics has been implemented by leading global institutions, including Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife, Barclays and the Australian Taxation Office.

Passive versus active

The old adage “one-size fits all” almost never holds true. When it comes to voice biometrics an important distinction is whether the customer is engaging in a live conversation with an agent or self-serving via an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system or a mobile app.

Passive, agent-assisted authentication

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), one of the largest banks in the world, recently launched RBC Secure Voice to provide customers with a simple, secure process for authentication. RBC is the first bank in Canada to introduce a conversational voice biometrics solution that, in real time, matches their voice to an enrolled voiceprint as they speak naturally to a customer service agent. Using FreeSpeech, a customer can be authenticated within seconds, creating a positive first-touch that reinforces customer loyalty. RBC has chosen to implement FreeSpeech broadly within their contact centers. In 2013, Barclays Wealth and Investment Management introduced the same passive form of voice biometrics to authenticate high-net worth clients calling to speak with their financial advisor. Since then, they’ve successfully shortened the time it takes to service their customers – reducing average handle time (AHT) by 15 percent – and enjoyed a wave of positive customer feedback – 93 percent of clients rate the system nine out of ten.

Active, self-service authentication

Last month, another leading financial institution in Canada launched voice biometrics to authenticate callers and boost security. Focused on providing a more convenient, effortless experience in their IVR self-service channel, Manulife implemented the active form of voice biometrics, VocalPassword, in both French and English for use by both customers and their retail advisors. Now the 28,000 daily callers have the option of speaking a pre-determined passphrase – “At Manulife, my voice is my password” – to authenticate their identities. As a result, the company was able to eliminate up to four steps in the authentication process – greatly increasing efficiency – and have already seen a 50 percent improvement in call routing.

Passive and active together

Consistency is a key factor in delivering service experiences that build customer loyalty. The ideal is to offer the same personal, efficient interaction whether a consumer is in your retail location, on your web site, self-serving in the IVR, mobile app, or talking live with a company representative. When it comes to authentication, it’s only natural that consumers will come to expect the same secure, convenient experience no matter how they engage with the companies with whom they do business.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO), which receives approximately nine million calls a year – 75 percent of which require authentication – has introduced both passive and active voice biometrics solutions. Now, whether the conversation occurs in the IVR or with an agent, it doesn’t begin with an interrogation to verify identity. Instead, callers effortlessly authenticate using their unique voices. In addition to offering a better experience, ATO has reduced their average call length by 40 to 45 seconds.


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