Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Eastern Bank Taps Nuance to Replace Security Questions with Voice Biometric Authentication

June 18, 2015

Contact center issues regarding authentication of those calling to do a transaction have been mushrooming. 2014 was a good year for fraud, and all of the data breaches involving the compromising of personal information, already have made 2015 a better one for the bad guys and possessing our sensitive info makes it that much easier for them to call as us.

At this point, we are way too familiar with all of the challenge questions we get asked not just when calling customer care facilities but using portals, etc.  However, we are supposed to have peace of mind that if it is this difficult for us to prove we are who we say we are so we can engage in a transaction in theory it should be just as hard for the bad guys.  Unfortunately, it turns out the bad guys are very clever and as noted, the frequency and sophistication of fraudulent activity is increasing not decreasing.

The above is provided as context for a really interesting announcement coming out of the Boston area.  Eastern Bank, the largest and oldest mutual bank in the United States with $9.5 billion in assets and more than 100 branches serving communities in eastern Massachusetts and southern and coastal New Hampshire has deployed Nuance Communications’ voice biometrics technology to make it easier for customers to do business by using the sound of their voice to access their accounts.

The above is not a misprint.  Now customers contacting Eastern Bank’s Customer Service Center (1-800-EASTERN) no long have to prove their identity by answering a series of security questions before interacting with an agent on their issue.  When a customer calls Eastern Bank, they engage in natural conversation with an agent, and during that time, Nuance’s FreeSpeech voice biometrics technology is used to compare the customer’s voice to their unique voiceprint, silently signaling to the bank customer care agent when the customer’s identity has been verified, and granting them access to their account.

The motivation behind Eastern Bank to become the first bank in North America to using voice biometrics in this matter came from listening to the voice of the customer.  What the bank had been hearing was customer frustration with the challenges. 

“We heard from our customers that verifying their identity through answering security questions was a frustrating process – and we listened and made meaningful changes,” said Bob Rivers, President and Chief Operating Office, Eastern Bank. “Voice biometrics allows our customers to get service in the most natural and intuitive way, through their voice. The end result is a better and more effortless experience for our customers.”

Eastern Bank’s voice biometrics project is part of a portfolio of technology investments aimed at reinventing how customers bank. Eastern’s other publicly announced technology initiative, Eastern Labs, is unique among bank innovation groups in its mandate to both create new data-driven technologies and to spin successful technologies out into new companies.

 “As the first bank in North America to launch voice biometrics in the call center, Eastern Bank is ahead of the innovation curve,” said Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager for the Enterprise Division of Nuance. “Voice biometrics is a more natural experience for customers while also offering a level up in security. Through delivering this technology to its customers, Eastern Bank is demonstrating a true commitment to reinventing the customer experience.”

Being the first is a great thing for Eastern Bank and its customers.  In fact, one hopes they will share information about how far this implementation moves the customer satisfaction yardsticks and how much time is saved in the process.  

The announcement also raises the question of how big might the market be for using voice biometrics as a standalone authentication solution or one that is part of multi-factor authentication.  Nuance pointed to recent data from Opus Research, Census Report: Voice Biometrics Census and Forecast, and November 2014, which predicts the voice biometrics authentication market will grow from $200 M (2013) to $750 M globally in 2017. Parenthetically, this would be nice for Nuance whose voice biometrics technology already has over 50 million voiceprints deployed by its customers, representing over 80 percent of the commercial market.

Regardless of technology vendor, from its early stages back in the 1980s it was evident that speaker-dependent voice recognition would ultimately emerge as a critical component in authentication. In fact, it seemed evident even way back then that it would be right up there with fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition for the simple reason that it could provide strong authentication remotely. 

To close on a personal note, it is my hope that all of the entities with whom I transact provide voice biometric authentication as an option. In fact, it is my hope they do so sooner rather than later.  After all it saves both sides time and money.

Edited by Maurice Nagle