More than 400,000 USAA customers, five of which are over 90 years old, have opted to use biometric traits to authenticate themselves within the bank's mobile app.

Rick Swenson, USAA's fraud operational excellence and strategic initiatives executive, expected that most customers adopting biometrics would be millennials. Instead, about half of those that adopted are under 35 and the other half are over 35. Of those over 35, 15% of those are seniors over 65, he said during a biometric roundtable hosted by the Center for the Study of Financial Innovation in London on May 11.

Biometric authentication could be especially beneficial to older individuals, said Keith Gold, a communications consultant who previously worked with IBM Banking and Financial Services Europe. As seniors' eyesight, hearing, motor skills and short-term memory start to wane, they might find using a password or PIN difficult on the small screen of a mobile device, he said.

Biometric authentication could also be particularly advantageous for military personnel, a segment that USAA focuses on banking. Military veterans are coming back from service injured and sometimes unable to login in a traditional fashion, Swenson said. The bank has 10.7 million customers, mostly military members and their families.

USAA rolled out the face and voice biometrics to its entire customer base in February this year. In the first 30 days after roll out, without any advertising, USAA had more than 200,000 user enrollments for the service, said Swenson. With 4.1 million active mobile users, “in just six months we captured 10% of [mobile users],” he said.

The financial institution added fingerprint authentication on April 27. Fingerprints are also used as part of Apple Pay, which USAA supports. To make a payment at the point of sale, Apple Pay users press a finger to the iPhone's Touch ID sensor; some Android handsets also have fingerprint readers built in.

With facial recognition, USAA uses liveness detection features from Daon, an international biometrics and identity assurance software provider, to determine whether the phone is observing a real user or just a photograph. The process includes making the customer blink while authenticating and looking for reflections and other slight facial movements.

According to customer feedback, fingerprint scanning and facial recognition are the preferred methods of authentication, said Swenson. “Voice is just a challenge” because it relies on a quiet background environment, he said, plus people feel silly talking to a mobile app.

Daon is developing a voice biometric process that should feel more natural to consumers. The provider found that consumers preferred speaking a set of numbers into their mobile device, rather than saying something like “my voice is my password,” said Clive Bourke, president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Asia-Pacific at Daon, during a separate interview at the roundtable.

The cost to develop USAA's biometric authentication process was in line with the development of remote deposit capture (RDC), or the ability to deposit a check by taking a picture of it with a mobile device, Swenson said. It wasn't in the millions, he said.

The development expense can also be offset by cost savings in the call center. As more customers migrate to mobile from the Web, the bank is also seeing a reduction in the number of calls to the call center, a majority of which were about authentication, Swenson said.

Of the first 100,000 customers who enrolled in the face and voice biometric authentication, USAA received only four calls to the call center, said Bourke.

And banks all across the globe are experimenting with biometrics, with similar results. Tinkoff Bank in Russia integrated voice biometrics into its 1,000-seat call center. The bank was able to cut 40 seconds to 60 seconds off the authentication process for each of its 1.2 million monthly customer calls, said Gold.

“Biometric identification is inevitable … and there are significant revenue opportunities here as well,” Gold said.

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