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Mobile Banking By the Sound of Your Voice? Easier, Yes. Safer, Remains To Be Seen.

January 22nd, 2014 · No Comments · Banking

by Kristy Welsh

(Last Updated On: February 26, 2018)

man speaking into megaphone that spits out moneyWho hasn’t moaned and groaned their way through a barrage of security questions before being able to access your account information over the phone? So finding a way around that via voice-recognition (in which the sound of your voice alone verifies your identity) is a welcome prospect, particularly when it’s offered by an organization you presume to be the most security-conscious of them all — your bank. But do security experts agree?

Wells Fargo made headlines this week for its testing of voice-recognition software for mobile banking, but it’s not the first bank to do so. Barclay’s made a similar announcement last year, as did U.S. Bank. ING Direct Canada is testing the technology, and Bank of America is considering the same.

The voice-recognition software being utilized by Wells Fargo is the same as that being used by other financial institutions — Nuance Voice Biometrics.

Nuance is the same company that brought Siri to the iPhone scene, so it is a company perfectly-poised to pioneer voice-recognition software for mobile banking (and beyond).

Generally speaking, here’s how it works.

  • During the set-up process, the software records (and files away) your individual “voiceprint.”
  • When you call in to access your account, the software compares your voice to the voiceprint on file. This may be in the form of “free speech,” in which your voice is analyzed within the context of a natural conversation. Or it may be the in the form of a “pass phrase,” a preset command used for voice verification.
  • If your voiceprint matches the one on file, you’re granted access.
  • If the voiceprint doesn’t match the one on file, you (or anyone trying to fraudulently access your account) is redirected, only then requiring the answering of security questions.

Sound too good to be true? Some security experts may think so.

When Barclay’s announced its testing of voice-recognition software last year, SecurEnvoy security expert Andy Kemshall told the International Business Times that the technology is “decades away” from being accurate enough to protect bank accounts:

“Using voice recognition software in an industry as sensitive as banking is a very risky business. Simply using your mobile phone as an authentication method is not only 99.9% reliable, it is also more secure and less prone to faults or replication from unwanted users trying to access a customer’s details. This type of technology will only work if it is 99.9% reliable and voice recognition is far from that.”

Nuance, of course, doesn’t agree, and pretty convincingly.

The PINs we currently rely on are frequently shared with others. (Been there, done that.) As for security questions, many are ones that can be answered via a simple Google search. Plus, if and when someone tries to fraudulently access your account, their voiceprint is recorded, which can be provided to authorities (though it begs the question how voice alone could help track down the perpetrator).

Still, if voice-recognition software hasn’t proven itself secure beyond a reasonable doubt, why would banks consider it?

Why do you think?

An estimated 1 billion people will be engaged in mobile banking by 2017. In other words, the market is gargantuan, meaning banks will be increasingly competing for the business of customers who are attracted to the latest-and-greatest in all things tech.

Plus, Nuance boasts that its voice-recognition software cuts down considerably on call times, and estimates a savings of $15 million average savings over a three-year period (though the scope and specifics of this savings is unclear).

As for customers, Nuance says 85 percent of them are frustrated with existing authentication. So they welcome anything that will simplify and shorten the verification process.

Learn more about the technology at

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