On a recent afternoon out, Michelle DeYoung and her children, ages 4 and 7, strolled into a coffee shop, chattering away as they lined up to order their favorite drinks. With one hand, DeYoung herded them along; with the other, she used her fingerprint on her phone to access a mobile banking pay app.
“Having fingerprint ID access really gives me a sense of being in control,” said the digital marketing consultant for Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I don’t need to remember a password, which I often forget anyway. If I have to reset a password, it takes too long and the kids are soon yelling for my attention. Fingerprint is far more convenient.”
From fingerprint and voiceprint to eyeprint recognition, biometrics technology has emerged in recent years as a more convenient and secure way for bank customers to authenticate their identities and access their accounts in the digital age, industry analysts say.
Wells Fargo and other major players are among the leaders in introducing customers to the new wave of biometric authentication, said Dan Miller, lead analyst and founder of Opus Research, a financial services technology consulting firm based in San Francisco.
“We anticipated this upswing in the deployment of biometric-based authentication in banking,” he said. “Now that Wells Fargo and other financial institutions enable various customers to use fingerprints, eyeprints, and voice to establish trusted links with their banks, customer confidence is growing as a result.”
For Wells Fargo, developing biometrics is part of its overall emphasis on enhanced cybersecurity to safeguard customers from stolen passwords, hacking, and other cyberthreats, said Jim Smith, head of Wells Fargo Virtual Channels, the company’s digital services arm.
“We are moving from something you need to memorize, like a password, toward something that you are — like your voice or fingerprint,” he said. “For example, consumer banking customers can now use their voices to authenticate themselves when they call a phone banker.”
The company also makes a number of security tools and options available to help customers engage in protecting their own information.
In addition to the technologies being developed for consumer customers, some corporate banking customers are using their eyes with their mobile phones, instead of using an ID or password to access their accounts.
The need for speed and safety
In developing new biometrics, Wells Fargo has made security a top priority, even while moving quickly to introduce customers and team members to the latest technologies, said Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group, an enterprisewide team focused on delivering next-generation technologies, products, and services.
“Our customers rely on us to keep their information safe and not do something just for the sake of being first to market,” he said. “It’s important that we know who our customers are — really knowing it’s them — whether they come in through the branch or a mobile experience.”
As with most high-tech advances, much of the cybersecurity work that teams are doing across Well Fargo is invisible to customers, said Rich Baich, the company’s chief information security officer.
“With every innovation that our customers see, we’re investing in many innovations behind the scenes that most people will never see,” he said. “Hand in hand with our innovation teams, we’re building the defenses to make it safer for our customers.”
Digital banking revolution
One of the behind-the-scenes areas drawing a lot of investment is artificial intelligence, particularly natural language processing, or the ability for a computer to understand human language as it’s spoken. It is a technology “that will really revolutionize how we interact with customers,” Ellis said. Earlier this year, he formed the Enterprise AI Solutions team to help accelerate the company’s efforts in AI.
“Natural language processing could potentially help you securely complete a wide variety of banking tasks through your phone or through your car,” Ellis added. “All this is fueled by data, and reimagining risk will create one seamless experience where all the technology and security we’ve built-in disappears behind an amazing customer experience.”
The company’s high-powered, high-speed data analysis infrastructure is key to risk management as Wells Fargo deploys new technologies for customers, said Baich.
“We’ve built a tool to turn thousands of data points about network activity into meaningful information for our team of security analysts to process and manipulate,” he said. “By providing visualization capabilities, it creates an additional avenue for the team to detect anomalies that require additional investigation. It’s a real game changer for us and for our customers.”
In addition to security, the most meaningful gauge of customer experience will be how easy and convenient it is to use a technology-based banking service — whether online, on the go (mobile), in a branch, and even when conducting business on external platforms, said Smith.
“For customers, it will be all about simplicity,” he said, “and allowing them to bank wherever they are.”