Inevitable is too strong a word, but there does seem a natural symbiosis between mobile banking and voice biometrics. Anyone who has scrambled in a purse or wallet for a credit card while talking on a cell phone and then speaking aloud a PIN or Social Security number, might have longed for less hassle and more privacy.

Yet marrying mobile banking and voice biometrics is clearly a complicated task; banks must enable and secure a wide range of financial services and transactions over the cell phone and alter consumer behavior—convincing them to use a cell phone for banking in the first place and then to trust a biometric form of security unfamiliar to them.

Stepping into the breach is Voice Commerce Group, which earlier this summer unveiled a system it says will enable the widespread adoption of biometrics-based “voice signatures” by the global payments and financial services industry. Nick Ogden, CEO of Voice Commerce Group, says his voice-based biometric payment and financial transaction processing service can integrate with all current banking and processing systems. The system is the first for voice signatures that integrates all current standards: Visa and MasterCard Level 1 PCI, ISO 19029, and EU certification 1993/93 for digital certificates within the Single European Payments Area (SEPA).

“The challenge for banks has always been interoperability and standards,” says Ogden, who in 2001 founded WorldPay, a global Internet payments system, which he sold to Royal Bank of Scotland. “We’ve created an environment in which banks can use voice signatures for a range of bank transactions. Our network covers 50 countries.” On the consumer side, the set up is easy, he says. They create an anonymous voice signature which uses a biometric that they then use to “sign” for payments and other transactions.

Voice Commerce announced earlier this summer that it had teamed up with Nuance, a leading provider of speech solutions, to enable the biometric element of Voice Transact. The two will support a global roll out of Voice Transact starting this summer, and Ogden says that in September his company expects to announce a partnership with “a large U.S. bank,” whose identity he declined to reveal.

Ogden says one of the technology’s main advantages is to reduce fraud over the cell phone by eliminating the exchange of personal information or codes.

In additional to battling fraud, Ogden says his solution will allow FIs to offer a range of new services—such as person-to-person payments, or having customers accept credit increases, as opposed to simply sending notification in the mail.

Nicole Sturgill, the research director for delivery channels at TowerGroup, says “it’s very exciting. The options for security are much more than four-digit PINs. So many things that weren’t conceivable a few years ago are happening now.”

Still, while relatively enthusiastic, Sturgill says there are some obvious cons to voice biometrics today. The first is a bad cell phone connection that prevents the voice signature. There is also the fact that “the PIN has served us well.” Generally speaking, using the card at the ATM and for small purchases is not too inconvenient. It’s “quick and painless” as she says. So certainly to start, voice biometrics should be a backup authentication measure that gives customers more options, not a technology that forces them to give up their familiar cards.

Consumers’ receptiveness, or otherwise, to voice biometrics is the major concern among analysts. “You want transactions to be secure, but you don’t want to annoy the customer,” says Kate Monahan, an analyst at Aite. By annoy, she means design transactions that take too long or fail. For that reason, voice biometrics is an excellent cross-channel verification tool, but perhaps not a primary one.

For instance, NCR is using Voice Commerce technology to pilot a program this summer at an unnamed bank in the Middle East that will allow people to use ATMs without a card. Instead of swiping a card, they type in their phone number, get a call while standing at the ATM, and their voice signature authorizes a one-time transaction. That’s pretty nifty, but not necessarily a huge improvement over using an ATM card, unless the customer has lost or forgotten the card.

Red Gillen, a senior analyst in Celent’s banking group, raises the issue of personal privacy, as opposed to security. Will consumers accept voice biometrics, knowing that their voice imprint will be stored in some corporate data base? Does voice biometrics carry the same negative connotations as fingerprints, which have so long been associated with criminal behavior? Don’t replace PINs, he warns. “People aren’t ready for that.” (c) 2008 Bank Technology News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.