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Voice ID coming to mobile apps?

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Friday, May 23, 2014
Posted: 2 pm ET

If you ask a lot of people why they don't do money stuff on their phone, they'd be likely to tell you it's because they don't believe it's secure. Between hackers attacking the contents of your phone through public Wi-Fi and the threat of losing your phone and having it fall into the wrong hands, those fears aren't entirely unfounded. mobile-blog-sound-wave-background

That may be one reason why biometric authentication -- verifying your identity through some unique characteristic of your physical body, rather than a password or a PIN -- is becoming a big deal in mobile finance.

Case in point: Earlier this year, U.S. Bank announced it would begin trying out voice recognition in its credit card apps. Instead of a password, users participating in the pilot will be able to speak a phrase to prove their identity.

It's a little reminiscent of this scene from the early 1990s crime caper Sneakers:

Unlike that high-tech '90s computer system, however, today's biometric identification systems can key into things like whether a voice is live or recorded, says Shirley Inscoe, senior analyst at Aite Group.

"Voice biometric technology has really come a long way in the last two or three years," Inscoe says. "A lot of financial institutions piloted it back maybe four or five years ago, but it really wasn't ready for prime time. But the technology has really made great strides."

Up to now, voice authentication has been used mostly in the background, with financial institutions using it at call centers to try to ensure they're actually talking to accountholders instead of scammers, Inscoe says.

But biometric identification is making its way onto financial apps to play a similar role, with the added benefit that you don't have to try and type in a password.

"Especially if you're using mobile, it can be hard to type on that little keypad, so yes, I do think this is something that could be a real customer convenience. It could eliminate the password, it could eliminate being grilled with those 'knowledge-based authentication questions,'" Inscoe says. "Your voice is something you always have with you."

People are also notoriously bad at choosing strong security codes. A 2012 analysis of data culled from data breaches by the blog Data Genetics found that more than 10 percent of all users chose "1234" as their PIN, and that the top five most popular PINs made up over 20 percent of the total PINs analyzed. So if biometric authentication becomes widespread in apps, it may make life much more difficult for thieves.

One concern that may turn customers off is privacy: For some, the notion of their financial services provider having a copy of their voice print on file is a little creepy, Inscoe says.

"I think that we're getting more used to biometrics overall, but there are still consumer concerns," Inscoe says.

She says that while younger consumers are used to sharing more of their personal information electronically, older customers may balk.

What do you think? Would you want to access your accounts with biometric authentication? Or does it creep you out?

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