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Voice biometrics: what you need to know

by Brett Feldon
22 August 2017
Voice biometrics: what you need to know
Voice is a commonly-used method for authenticating a person is who they say they are, but how exactly does voice biometrics work? And who’s using it?

Voice biometrics is a sophisticated voice recognition technology that uses distinctive characteristics of the voice to easily and securely verify an individual's identity. A secure and convenient method of authenticating end users, it has seen rapid adoption in the public and private sectors.
As demand from security-sensitive fields drives uptake and the number of voice interactions continues to increase, we can expect to see voice biometrics evolve, becoming an everyday user authentication application across a range of customer-facing settings.


What is voice biometrics?

Biometrics are physical characteristics that can be used to identify an individual, and can include a person’s face, fingerprints, iris or voice.
A person’s voice is a complex form of identification. A voice is influenced by physical factors including the size and shape of the vocal tract, larynx and nasal passages, and even the way a person breathes. Other distinctive behavioural markers used for authentication include accents, pronunciation, and the speed of someone’s speech.

How does voice biometrics work?

Voice biometric software uses sophisticated statistical algorithms to record and analyse more than 100 distinctive characteristics of a person's voice. Essentially, the technology confirms your identity simply from hearing your voice, replacing the often cumbersome and time-consuming process of relaying personal details to a customer service agent. 
Enrolling in a voice biometric system is as easy as saying an initial sentence or short phrase – and this can form part of the normal dialogue with an enterprise. This sample is then analysed to create a biometric model or voiceprint, which is encrypted and stored on a secure database. When the customer calls in again, their voice is compared and verified against the voiceprint on file. Today, the technology is at a point where the recognition process is extremely fast, authenticating a user in a few seconds. Verification of a caller’s identity can happen in real-time, from the moment the customer starts speaking with the organisation.

How secure is voice biometrics?

Because of the inherent complexity of the human voice, matching or replicating a person's exact voiceprint is extremely difficult and, as such, is viewed as a very secure method of identity verification. It’s regarded as significantly more secure than knowledge-based protocols, such as PINs and passwords. Given that identity surety is paramount in areas like government services and the financial sector, voice biometric technology has been widely adopted in these industries.

There are myriad benefits and opportunities to incorporating voice biometrics technology in your service offering, including:

Benefits and opportunities of voice biometrics

  • Faster, more personalised engagement for customers with a streamlined initial identification process.
  • Ease of access to customer services, with simplified self-service authentication.
  • Unlike other methods of biometric authentication, no special device is required to verify a user’s voice beyond initiating your voiceprint.
  • Effective fraud protection for customers who engage with customer service representatives over the phone.
  • Requires no physical contact with a biometric system and can be used remotely.
  • Removes the barrier of complex knowledge-based identity verification, which is cumbersome and less secure.

Who uses voice biometrics?

Voice biometrics is a solution best suited to businesses that have an enduring account relationship with a customer, and where secure identity verification is required.
The government and financial services sectors have been early adopters of the technology, primarily because they have strong identity verification requirements and high levels of consumer interaction. They also require a high degree of surety regarding their customer’s identity. Other sectors to integrate voice biometrics into their service offering include utilities, the insurance sector.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was one of the first to launch voice authentication on a large scale in 2014, for customers accessing its service over the phone. It has since extended the service to its mobile app. 

New Zealand, which has the world's highest level of voice biometric enrolments per capita, with 1.4 million Inland Revenue customers signed up for the voice ID phone service in 2015. It is estimated that voice ID saves the customer 40 seconds per call, which is a significant time saving. In addition to the cost-saving benefits, caller ID allows customers to do a series of actions, such as activate accounts and reset passwords, outside of office hours.

Many of the governments that have voice biometrics in place are looking to extend these activities across multiple agencies.

Implementing a voice biometric system

Voice biometric solutions can be delivered on-premise or deployed from the cloud. Organisations with highly sensitive data tend to opt for onsite architecture, although cloud services are increasingly secure and trusted. Defining how the technology will be delivered is critical to the overall success of any deployment, and should be aligned with the customer service strategy. Deployment typically involves technical assistance from a provider, who ensures the enrolment process is simple for users and provides a consistent and seamless customer experience.
Find out more about Salmat’s speech solutions. Contact us today or call us on 1300725 628.

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About the author
Brett Feldon
GM - Speech Solutions

Brett Feldon is the General Manager at Salmat’s Speech Solutions business, which delivers tangible business benefit through the use of natural language, speech recognition and voice biometric technologies for customer service. He has a long history in understanding the challenges that underpin the delivery of customer service through contact centres, and the application of technology to improve that service delivery. In his roles across three countries he has had oversight of the delivery of customer service improvements with speech technology and related solutions across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US for both government and private sector users.

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