It is with great pleasure that I typed in the headline above. It represents the culmination of decades of work to refine core technology, followed by accelerated efforts on many fronts to prove voice biometrics’ efficacy, convenience and ability to scale. The trigger for the observation is a series of news stories from the Pacific Rim where financial services giant, Citi, launched bold plans to bring “passive” voice authentication to its clients and cardholders.
When it launched its voice biometrics initiative in May 2016, Citi had the ambition of reaching 3 million enrollments “within three years.” That meant reaching the one million user milestone “in the next 12 months.” Implementations started in Taiwan and quickly expanded to Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. To reach its milestones it is expected to cover 12 consumer banking markets in the Asia Pacific region, representing more than half of the banks’ 19 consumer markets around the globe.
By March 2017, Anand Selva, head of Asia Pacific Consumer Banking for Citi, confirmed that adoption was going “ahead of schedule.” In addition to the countries mentioned above, voice-based authentication is now offered in the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and India. Selva credits the popularity to “making banking easier for our clients” and the new technology is “a hit” with clients.
Citi’s experience corroborates what Opus Research has observed in recent months. The rate at which individuals are enrolling in services that use their voiceprints to speed secure access to digital services is growing at an accelerating rate. That increase in growth is attributable to several factors. First and foremost, the core technologies have proven to be easier to implement, enabling accurate and capable integration with existing elements of the contact center and security infrastructure, including IVRs.
That’s the “technology-driven” side of the voice authentication story. There is a very human side as well. NICE shared the results of a survey it conducted in the Asia-Pacific region in February 2017. The results reflect the factors that make voice authentication, especially of the passive variety, so attractive to today’s busy individuals. It cites the top three reasons for people to call into a contact center:
First is a sense of urgency, such as activating a bank card overseas, making an emergency fund transfer or reporting a lost or stolen card.
Next, people cited their desire for efficiency. When they want more detail or clarification of information provided on a website or in a mailing, they call to get in touch with a subject matter expert.
Finally, they make that call when they have no other options. In other words, they are feeling a bit edgy at the outset.
Given the tetchy nature of most inbound calls, it is not surprising to learn that nearly half (46.4%) of the respondents rated their authentication experience as “terrible”, “bad” or “neutral.” In other words, people don’t call to be authenticated and experience tells me that they would give the process worse reviews except that they regard it as a necessary evil.
NICE found high receptivity toward voice-based authentication to be very high, although awareness of voice biometrics was around 33%. Over 88% of all respondents were “open to sign up” for voice biometric-based authentication. For those who had not heard of voice-based authentication until it was described to them by the interviewers, willingness to enroll still exceeded 80%.
“Passive” Enrollment and Authentication is About to Make Some Noise
In the survey, NICE took time to describe the difference between “active enrollment” which requires callers to repeat a phrase or series of digits at least three times, and “passive enrollment,” which can build voiceprints based on conversations with an agent or a speech enabled IVR. It found that the willingness to sign up increased by as much as 15.1%. In other words, people liked the idea of greater security with a minimum of effort. That means that enrollment rates could reach over 80% of a company’s customer base.
For both companies and their customers, digital commerce is all about speed and efficiency. Both benefit when safety and security are accomplished as well. But customers have repeatedly shown that they have trouble remembering multiple passwords and that “challenge questions” take too long and are also hard to remember. Voice authentication, which was already growing at accelerated rates, is bound to be propelled further with the introduction of technologies that relieve callers from the burden of remembering passwords and agents from the responsibility of playing traffic cop or crossing guard.
That noise you hear is the rapid adoption of voice-based authentication. As evidenced by the preferences expressed in NICE’s survey – and validated by the fact that Citi is ahead of schedule in its enrollment efforts – the people have spoken. And it’s proven voice to be a factor for strong authentication.