Tech Talk: Wells Fargo Pushes For Biometrics Over Passwords

April 14, 2017 - Written By Cory McNutt

Merriam-Webster defines biometrics as “the measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics (as fingerprint or voice patterns) especially as a means of verifying personal identity,” and if Wells Fargo has its way, in the near future, the use of biometrics to identify a person for banking transactions will be the norm. They would like to eliminate passwords at ATMs and strictly use biometric methods as a means to verify a customer’s identity, which would greatly increase security as well as making it easier for the customer. Pulling up to an ATM machine to request money, may be as simple as looking at the machine to have your eyes scanned. Other options could include using your fingerprint or possibly voice recognition – Wells Fargo is testing them all because they realize that different circumstances could require a different form of biometrics. Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s innovation group said, “Our view is they [customers] can decide which they want to use in the moment they’re trying to. For example, if I’m driving in my car and I want to talk to the bank, I’m not going to authenticate with my fingerprint but maybe my voice could be the password.” Voice recognition could completely replace the need for user IDs and passwords entered on a keypad.

What is so amazing about the adoption of biometrics is that many developing nations have embraced the technology while US banks and other institutions are dragging their feet over its adaptation. In India you can verify yourself for banking activities via a thumbprint and Australia’s ANZ Bank is now running a pilot project to use voice authorization for transactions of $750 USD and over. The problem with US Banks is trying to decide what method or combination of methods of sign in will be acceptable. In the meantime, Wells Fargo has embraced the biometrics technology in an effort to add both security and convenience for their customers. Hackers are way too comfortable stealing passwords at ATM machines or even other areas where you have to scan your card and then enter your pin number. Duplicating your thumbprint makes it much harder on hackers, but is still not impossible – it just requires a lot more work on their part. Voice recognition is really getting nearly impossible to duplicate with the sophisticated hardware that can tell the difference between a live or a recorded voice pattern. Using voice recognition could verify you instantly when calling into the bank’s automated or customer services number. Eye scanning, Iris scanning, or Eyeprints – whatever you want to call them – will be used by the end of this quarter to verify commercial customers. This technology uses the mapping of blood vessels and other details from your eyes to verify your identity – Samsung’s latest Galaxy S8 has this and facial recognition built into the smartphone to unlock the device.

Some of the other big banks in the US are following Wells Fargo’s lead and starting to implement biometrics. U.S. Bank and JPMorgan Chase allow customers to log into their mobile app with a fingerprint as well as some companies such as PayPal. Citibank has expanded logging onto their mobile app to include a fingerprint, voice or facial recognition, PIN or the old-fashioned password. Biometric companies say that banks are still reluctant about using biometrics due to regulations and legalities surrounding the biometric data, but more than that there is resistance from senior executives still leery of the technology. Other forces that drive the change to biometrics are the customers, which do not seem to be demanding the changes as many bank customers are older and barely use a smartphone except to text the kids or exchange pictures. Mobile banking was pushed early on in many emerging markets where desktop banking was bypassed for mobile banking and those countries have used mobile banking longer and are now more comfortable banking via their smartphone. The US has a system all banks are comfortable using – an ATM card and password – and until they can decide on a new standard, most of the US banks will be lagging behind Wells Fargo in a field that expects rapid growth over the next few years.