Telephone banking to go password-free for HSBC customers

Tom Wilson
22 February 2016

Some 15 million HSBC and First Direct customers will soon be able to ditch passwords for telephone banking, and instead log in to accounts using their voice.

The new biometric security technology will allow customers to access telephone banking services, by checking 100 different elements of the caller’s voice; measuring their speech speed and pronunciation.

It can also identify physical aspects of the caller, such as the shape of their voice box and mouth, which are less likely to change as customers get older.

“Voice biometric security will completely transform the way customers interact with their bank. The technology is some of the most sophisticated on the market, not only measuring what you say but how you say it”, says Robert Weideman, manager at Nuance, the company behind the technology.

Password-based systems can be vulnerable because people often pick predictable passwords, or use the same password on different websites, potentially making it easier for hackers to guess or steal login information.

Around 37% of customers think passwords are an outdated security measure, according to YouGov research commissioned by HSBC.

Read Warning for consumers as scam reports rise.

So what can I use the new service for?

The voice recognition service will purely be used by customers to access telephone banking services.

The new technology cannot be used for transactions, or to access standard online banking services – so you will still need to remember your PIN for credit and debit card purchases, as well as passwords for confirming your identity online.

HSBC and First Direct do however offer Apple Pay to customers, meaning those with suitable phones can use their fingerprints to verify online purchases via Apple Pay, where accepted.

Those with the latest iPhones (5s and later) can also use fingerprint technology to log in to mobile banking apps, too.

I’m a First Direct/HSBC customer. How do I sign up?

HSBC says the service will be available to all customers by the summer, while First Direct customers will have access by March. Customers will be invited to opt-in directly.

What are the other banks doing?

Here’s what the other major banks told us when we asked if they use voice-recognition technology:

  • Barclays launched voice-recognition software for customers of its Wealth Management division in 2013. It is planning to offer the service to other customers, but is yet to announce when this will be. 
  • Lloyds Bank has reviewed voice recognition technologies but it has no current plans to introduce them. Halifax, which is part of Lloyds Banking Group, adds that it has been exploring other biometric recognition, such as how customers might be identified through information from fitbits and other wearable technology.
  • M&S Bank, also owned by HSBC, says it has no current plans to introduce voice recognition.
  • Nationwide doesn’t yet offer voice recognition security, but says it expects to do so in future.
  • RBS says it has no plans to introduce voice recognition technology.  
  • TSB says it doesn’t currently offer voice or touch ID systems.


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