The next step towards making biometric banking an acceptable and widespread reality has been taken with a recent announcement by HSBC. The major banking and financial services institution is launching voice recognition and touch services within the UK, at an interesting point in the history of the banking industry.

Other banks also interested

With Barclays, RBS and NatWest all making their presence felt and announcing similar advancements in their technological authentication and security options in recent years, the banking world could soon be taking a giant leap forward.

Barclays already offers voice recognition software, although the service is only available to a limited number of corporate clients. RBS and NatWest have also provided options in the biometric arena, with their offerings of finger print technology being available for the last year or so.

Outdated authentication options

HSBC’s developments have arisen amid a clamour for the industry to move away from the somewhat outdated options that many customers currently face when attempting to access their accounts. The Bank believes that this represents a much improved customer experience in the internet banking space, avoiding the need for remembering passwords or having to recollect the answers to specific security questions that have previously been defined.

Biometric banking has been viewed as something of a holy grail for financial services companies for many years now, with user authentication and controls in the banking sector key factors in the success or otherwise of any venture into that area.

Various biometric options

Various biometric solutions have been proposed and investigated, with technical, managerial, social and ethical angles all needing to be addressed as part of their implementation.

With the number of security breaches and occurrences of fraud increasing day by day, heightened security in terms of identification and personal verification has become paramount. It is of little use to provide an internet facility to enable ease of access wherever the client may be, if by doing so the hackers are always one step ahead of you.

The appeal to the banking world of biometric technology is that it seems to offer a near perfect solution to such security threats. Whether it be via analysing your distinctive voice pattern, scanning your fingerprint using 3D technology, face or iris recognition, or even finger vein authentication.

Hackers up for the challenge

However, the hackers are as ever up for the challenge. When Apple started selling their iPhone 5S with a Touch ID fingerprint reading sensor, it seemed that biometric solutions were up and running. Yet a German hacker was able to hack the technology about a day later. Jan Krissler – nicknamed ‘Starbug’ - was able to replicate the last fingerprint that had touched the iPhone’s glass surface using a scanner, printer and the ever-essential bit of glue.

However, ‘Starbug’ did suggest an improvement to the security procedures that might work involving ‘two-factor authentication’. What he proposed was utilising a choice of two different components from three options, based on the distinctive characteristics of ‘knowledge’ (eg. Password), ‘possession’ (such as a smart card) in addition to biometrics.

Survey confirmed public expectations

What does seem certain though is that biometric solutions are an area that the banking world will continue to invest in for the coming years.

That view was echoed by a recent YouGov survey of over 2,000 people, that was commissioned by HSBC. The findings indicated that 55% of those polled confirmed that they rarely changed their passwords and a significant 74% were of the opinion that biometric security seemed likely to become the default "password" in the future.