Demand for Authentication Boosts Voiceprints

As concern over identity theft continues to grow, companies, particularly financial services and healthcare providers, are looking to voice biometrics and other ways to positively identify customers, according to speakers who discussed the technology during a Webinar Tuesday.

More than 8.1 million people had their identities stolen in 2007, according to Javelin Research. While that figure is down from the 8.4 million in 2006, it’s still a huge number, said Ron Settele, product marketing manager for Intervoice.

Between customer concerns and local regulations governing the healthcare and financial services industries (comprehensive national rules have yet to be developed), the need for stronger identification protocols is evident, Settele said.

So many firms have implemented—or are in the process of implementing—two-factor authentication, which typically includes one piece of public (e.g., a person’s address) and one piece of private (e.g., the last four numbers of a Social Security number) identification. However, much of the typically used public and private information has been compromised, so companies and their customers are searching for other methods to identify customers, Settele said.

These positive identification needs are one reason that London-based ABI Research is predicting that the biometrics industry will grow from $3 billion to $7.3 billion in 2008.

Along with fingerprint, iris scanning, face recognition, and other technologies, voiceprint will be one area of biometric technology growth, according to IBM and Intervoice. The positive identification must occur at the point of customer contact, Settele added. Despite the dramatic growth in email and text communications, more than 70 percent of contacts are still made via telephone. So one of the major areas of additional authentication is the voice channel.

Intervoice already has a half-dozen pilots using voiceprint technology to help positively identify customers. These pilots use Intervoice and IBM Websphere Voice Server technologies.

Though some might question voiceprints for a variety of reasons, the technology is "ready for prime time," according to Steve Cawn, IBM U.S. speech solutions leader. The voiceprint can be made over different phone systems and can provide positive matches in most instances, even if the person is sick (e.g., a cold), is on a different type of phone (cell versus landline), or is using a second language, according to Cawn. In instances where the voiceprint can’t positively identify customers, they will be asked for additional identifying information. Cawn added that the price of the technology has come down to the level that it is competitive with other forms of authentication.

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