The State of Voice Biometrics

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Voice biometrics—which scores voice elements to authenticate callers—is becoming more vital as fraudster threats become more common and more sophisticated.

Though certainly not a new development, the ability of companies to use voice biometrics as an authentication factor, sometimes alone but more often as part of a larger multifactor authentication strategy, became more pronounced in 2019 and is expected to grow even more in popularity in 2020.

HTF Market Intelligence predicts that the voice biometrics market will enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.7 percent through 2023, citing rising fraud attempts, the increasing demand for fraud detection, and the strength of voice biometrics as compared to other modalities, like PINs, passwords, or security questions.

The Year in Review

There were a couple of major improvements in voice biometrics in 2019, according to Simon Marchand, chief fraud prevention officer at Nuance Communications. “There was improvement of existing voice authentication algorithms, and with the emerging technology (like machine learning and artificial intelligence), we’ve been able to shorten the audio sample required to authenticate customers.”

While voice biometrics used to require several seconds of dialogue or the caller to read a specified phrase or set of words for it to work acceptably, now the caller can typically be identified in two seconds or less, according to Marchand. As a result, voice biometrics became much easier to implement on top of existing interactive voice response systems.

“We have created a language-agnostic voiceprint. We also created conversation print tech,” Marchand notes. Combining voiceprints with conversation prints enables quicker identification of potential fraud, because fraudsters tend to speak from prepared scripts or use certain trigger words or speech patterns that contact centers can more easily flag as fraudulent.

For known customers, the combination of voiceprint and conversation print enables contact centers and other speech biometric technology users to monitor words, phrases, pauses, hesitations, and overall lengths of sentences to help positively identify customers.

In 2019, some more companies started moving to biometrics due to the unreliability of passwords, according to Marchand. It used to be that voice biometrics was used by only the largest organizations, but in 2019, the technology started finding its way into smaller organizations looking to step up their authentication methods.

Even though adoption picked up during the year, there were a good number of potential customers still waiting on the sidelines to see how early adopters fared with the technology before taking the plunge themselves, according to Dan Spohrer, vice president of product strategy at Verint Systems. Potential customers also wanted to ensure the technology could scale sufficiently for call volume spikes.

Another driver for organizations adding biometrics in 2019 was that there are more providers and a larger number of potential solutions, according to Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting.

Additionally, lower prices for solutions removed a long-standing barrier to adoption, and advancements in natural language processing have made voice biometrics and other speech technologies more customer-friendly and more acceptable. Customers are no longer surprised by voice authentication.

“A few years ago, no one even knew what it was,” Fluss says. “The primary target for this is Millennials. If they know what it is, they are very accepting of it. They prefer self-service.”

Biometrics makes it easier for companies to offer secure self-service, though the technology itself isn’t easy to implement, according to Fluss.

Marchand adds that European and Canadian financial institutions use voice as a primary authentication method and that the largest financial institutions are moving in this direction as well. Other financial institutions are using voice biometrics as a “step-up factor” for additional identification for higher-risk transactions.

A Look Ahead

In 2020, Marchand expects to see a further step up in the use of voice biometrics. The European Payment Services Directive 2 and similar regulations taking shape across the globe will require companies to have two of three factors to authenticate customers. Applicable vectors include something they know (as in a security question), something they own (as in a security key, token, PIN, or password), and who they are (biometrics). So the use of voiceprints for payments will become increasingly popular.

Additionally, companies will be refocusing on loyalty and customer experience efforts, according to Marchand. He cited a recent Nuance study that found that nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of companies are implementing multiple projects for improved customer experience. He expects voice biometrics to be high on that list because “it reduces friction in authentication without a negative impact on security.”

Fluss also expects the number of companies using the technology to grow, though she doesn’t expect massive adoption just yet. More companies will be offering intelligent interactive voice assistants, with voice biometrics included.

“Companies will be willing to spend more to improve quality, productivity, and security,” Fluss says. “With voice biometrics, companies don’t have to torture customers about two [identification] factors. They can enable a better communications experience.”

Spohrer sees the improved ability of vendors to provide the technology at scale—particularly as the underlying and supporting technologies, like telecom infrastructures, neural networks, and the biometric capabilities themselves, get better—as one of the biggest changes in the overall market of late. He also expects the technology to become more cost-effective for companies as they look for more frictionless authentication technologies.

“More companies will be embedding biometrics as part of their recording solutions,” Spohrer says.

He also expects increased use of voice biometrics in combination with behavioral biometrics, like patterns of speech, because the combination would be even more effective in thwarting attempted fraud.

Will Hall, chief creative officer at RAIN, adds that the addition of 5G to mobile networks in 2020 will aid voice biometric adoption. 5G networks are capable of carrying far more information at much greater speeds, thereby allowing more mobile uses of the technology.

There were some very small 5G launches in 2019, but wider availability is expected in 2020. In addition to greater power and less latency, 5G will enable even better voice quality, further enabling the use of voice biometrics for authentication. 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at spenterprises@wowway.

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