Your Voice is Your New Password

Banking company Citi has implemented voice recognition technology designed to better authenticate customers on support phone calls.

I recently contacted Citi credit cards regarding a charge on my account and was asked an interesting question, could they record my voice? They didn’t want to ask me the seemingly endless list of personal questions to verify I was actually the card holder or request a PIN I would never remember. They just wanted to record my voice and use it for authentication.

I was intrigued and excited about the prospect of almost seamless authentication. I, like so many consumers, am tired of the endless authentication maze we need to go through every day to perform our jobs and access our personal accounts. From picture authentication, to personal question banks and seemingly absurd password requirements, they create unnecessary stress and delays every day.

Now, Citi has introduced voice imprint authentication that will verify a card holder by their voiceprint. If you contact their customer service center with a question, the system verifies your identity by matching your voice to the imprint on file. There is no lengthy upfront process, and questions can be addressed immediately.

This new technology was developed by NICE a third-party vendor. The imprint takes less than one minute to record the 130 unique physical and behavioral characteristics that makes each human voice distinctive. To date, voice imprint authentication has been rolled out to all credit cards in the US and 250,000 clients have opted in to use the authentication. Citi has announced it expanded its rollout in May 2016 to its 15 million clients in the Far East. Over the next 3 years, they expect that 3M consumers in the Far East market will adopt the technology.

Right now, the service is only available on the telephone but in the future it may become part of our authentication process online and from our mobile devices. Imagine our voices can finally help eliminate those passwords we can never remember! While there are some obvious challenges, I could call in with laryngitis or some other ailment that could change my voice imprint. Age can also change voice imprints, so it’s feasible that the consumer will need to update those imprints at regular intervals. Additionally, businesses consumers probably couldn’t benefit from this type of authentication, since multiple employees may have access to a business account.

The issues aside, this type of authentication being rolled out in such a large scale with high levels of adoption is a win in the battle against hackers. We all seem to get almost daily alerts of another breach of password data. Breaching someone’s voice may well be enough to stop a hacker’s efforts cold. Copying the technology and replication would be much more intensive than simply getting a password string. This type of authentication may be the security magic bullet we have all been waiting on.

Biometrics and other physical authentication have long been discussed but have ultimately not reached wide implementation due to issues with implementation, costs, and reliability. Citi’s foray into voice authentication demonstrates that solutions can be found to address the authentication challenge and they can be widely adopted. While these solutions obviously impact customer satisfaction, they also shorten call times, save money and increase service volume capabilities. Citi reports it cut authentication from 30 seconds to 15 seconds with customers that use the technology.


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