HSBC has told the BBC that it is going all-in on biometric security, replacing both passwords and memorable questions with a combination of Touch ID and voice-recognition. The bank says that the option will be offered first to customers of its UK branchless subsidiary First Direct before rolling out to 15 million HSBC customers.

First Direct’s customers will be offered the voice and fingerprint recognition system over the next few weeks, followed by HSBC’s in the summer.

Francesca McDonagh, HSBC UK’s head of retail banking and wealth management, said: “The launch of voice and touch ID makes it even quicker and easier for customers to access their bank account, using the most secure form of password technology – the body.”

The hi-tech security approach is heavy on Apple tech …

The voice-recognition system being used is supplied by Nuance, the company who developed the technology used by Siri, and Touch ID is of course available only on iPhones and iPads. Apple also has lots of its own patents for voice authentication, one of them granted just this week.

Nuance Communications is supplying the voice biometrics technology, which works by cross-checking against over 100 unique identifiers including both behavioural features such as speed, cadence and pronunciation, and physical aspects including the shape of larynx, vocal tract and nasal passages.

The bank was quick to reassure customers that things that might affect their voice – like getting a cold – would not stop them logging-in.

“We will be able to cope with people who have got colds or slight impediments,” Joe Gordon, UK head of customer contact at HSBC, told the BBC. “Things such as the size of your mouth or your vocal tract don’t change. Neither do your cadence or your accent when you’ve got those little colds.”

A number of banks currently support Touch ID, while others use voice-recognition, but this is believed to be the first time a combination of the two can be used to completely bypass the need for conventional security credentials.

There’s no word yet on when the service might roll out beyond the UK, but I’ll be trying it out as soon as it’s available, and will report back on how well it works.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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