Customers of Intrust Bank wanting access to their accounts by phone soon will only have to say the word to get it.
The Wichita, Kan., bank is installing a system from T-Netix Inc. of Englewood, Colo., designed to confirm people's identity using the sound of their voices.
Intrust, which has $1.8 billion of assets, may be the only U.S. bank with concrete plans to use a voice biometric system on its customers, observers said.
"We see it as a more secure way for customers to get their account information than the traditional touch-tone PIN input," said Patrick Rooney, assistant vice president of operations at the bank.
Several institutions, including Chase Manhattan Corp., have experimented with voice verification and other biometric techniques, which identify people by their biological traits.
Intrust is using the voice verification technology internally to identify employees who make wire transfers. That program involves about 300 people; the employees use code words that change periodically.
By the end of the year the system is expected to be identifying Intrust's phone banking customers. They now use personal identification numbers that they input on their telephone keypads.
Though the bank has had few problems with fraud or account tampering, it viewed voice verification as an investment in protection, Mr. Rooney said.
Because the voice system is supposed to identify customers with more certainty, the bank plans to extend the range of services available by phone.
The technology makes user codes and passwords less of a concern. It is designed to accept passwords only if spoken by the accountholder.
"The beauty of it," Mr. Rooney said, is that unauthorized people who know a password "still can't get in."
Some users of voice verification systems said they are sometimes denied access if they have a cold or have not used the system in several months, said consultant Benjamin Miller, head of the Cardtech/Securtech organization in Bethesda, Md.
Intrust said its employees, who started using the T-Netix system two weeks ago, have not encountered problems.
T-Netix is also testing the system with a handful of other banks, said Ronald Beyner, its vice president of commercial services. He declined to name them.
Outside of banking, voice verification is used mainly in prisons. Given the growth of access to banking services by telephone, automated teller machine, and other devices, banks are seeking more secure identification methods.
Intrust executives declined to say how much the bank paid for T-Netix's technology.
Some biometric systems are too expensive for many banks, said Deborah Williams, research director at Meridien Research in Needham, Mass. But others noted that voice identification is relatively cheap, because it uses hardware that nearly everybody owns-telephones.