The 2015 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Voice Biometrics

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Laugh all you want at your parents for keeping their passwords on yellow sticky notes, but it's a common enough scenario—and it's a convenient, albeit messy and unsecured, solution. But how can you possibly remember the password to your bank account, health portal, personal computer, work computer, smartphone, iPad, and myriad Web sites? Suddenly your folks seem like geniuses. But as with Beatrice, the elderly woman in Esurance's commercials who posts vacation pictures to her living room wall instead of her Facebook wall, that's not how it works...or should work. According to Nuance Communications, 67 percent of consumers have more than 11 user names and passwords. With voice biometrics, your voice is your password, which lets customers—and increasingly our moms and dads—simply speak their password, whether it's saying their name or some other word or phrase. The voiceprint is securely enrolled and stored in a biometrics engine, making all those sticky notes truly obsolete.

While growth may have been slow initially, even in 2013, ordinary people were expressing interest in voice biometrics. An Opus Research/Nuance survey found that 85 percent of those polled said that they were not happy with their authentication method. Additionally, 90 percent were willing to use voice biometric solutions versus mainstream forms of authentication if proven secure. Increasingly, some of those unhappy individuals' voiceprints are being enrolled in voice biometrics solutions; currently, there are roughly 150 voice biometrics deployments worldwide that have processed roughly 70 million voiceprints, according to Opus.

In a November 2014 report, Opus analysts predicted that the market will continue on an upward trajectory. "[The] industry closed 2013 with over $165 million in annual revenues, and is poised to exceed $584 million in annual revenue in three years, representing a hefty 37.2 percent compound annual growth rate. This compares to the 42.7 percent growth we've observed between 2012 and 2014," the report states. The report also ranked Nuance, VoiceTrust, Auraya Systems/ArmorVox, Agnitio, SpeechPro, and VoiceVault as industry leaders.

Dan Miller, founder and lead analyst at Opus Research, maintains that there's a lot of incentive for businesses to move from the knowledge-based authentication that is predominant, namely PINs, passwords, and answers to security questions. "The good news for the voice biometrics community is that voice is being considered as a legitimate form of authentication," he says.

"Voice biometrics has earned more respect in the business community over the past year," Miller adds. "From talking to executives, both customer experience and security decision makers see the need for biometrics to be used for easier authentications. As they look at candidates, voice is in that mix."

The View from the Top

Without doubt, Nuance Communications leads the voice biometrics industry. Opus calculated that the company has more than 45 million voiceprints deployed by worldwide customers, representing in excess of 80 percent of the commercial market.

"Voice biometrics is definitely a segment of our business that keeps growing," says Brett Beranek, senior principal solutions marketing manager of enterprise at Nuance. Miller echoes that thought.

"Supernormal growth in voice biometrics adoption is being driven by several large-scale implementations," Miller says. "The technology has proven that it works and it can scale. It's been just a matter of getting ducks in a row for enrolling individuals by the millions."

The largest sectors for voice biometrics continue to be in the financial and telecommunications realms, and Nuance has scored big wins in both sectors. Nuance's biggest worldwide contact center voice deployment to date has been with Turkish mobile phone carrier Turkcell, which has more than 10 million voice deployments. Beranek believes that one of Nuance's larger financial customers, U.K.-based Barclays Wealth & Investment Management, will soon have the most enrolled voiceprints among Nuance's customers; the organization is set to deploy voice biometrics across its entire retail customer base, adding 12 million people.

In the financial institutional arena, Nuance announced in May that Banco Santander Mexico had deployed Nuance's Vocal Password voice biometrics solution, which now has more than 3 million voiceprints. The bank had significant fraud prevention issues; it had an authentication failure rate of 60 to 65 percent for calls processed in the contact center, and agents spent as long as 72 seconds 

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The 2015 State of the Speech Technology Industry

In our first State of the Speech Technology Industry issue, we reveal the latest trends and developments in eight market categories.