NCR Corp. is preparing to test a biometric voice authentication system that would let people withdraw money from automated teller machines without their ATM cards.

The technology, from Voice Commerce Group Ltd., could also be used with a new type of person-to-person money transfer scheme.

Nick Ogden, Voice Commerce's chairman and chief executive, said his company's technology enables people to make a withdrawal by entering their mobile phone number into an ATM. The system places a call to the phone, allowing the person to authenticate himself by matching his voice against an existing biometric voiceprint.

"All they need is their mobile phone and they can start doing transactions," he said in an interview Thursday.

Though the technology was originally developed to let people make withdrawals without using their card, Mr. Ogden said it could also be used remotely, with the account holder granting permission for another person to withdraw funds from an account.

This sort of arrangement could function as a person-to-person transfer or remittance; a sender could instruct a recipient to access the sender's account at an ATM. When the call is made, the sender could authorize the transaction from miles away and the recipient would receive the funds.

This is not the intended purpose of the Voice Commerce technology, Mr. Ogden said, but "potentially you could do that."

He said NCR plans "very shortly" to begin testing the technology with a bank in the Middle East that he would not name.

Mark Grossi, the chief technology officer of NCR's Advanced Concepts Lab, said by e-mail that voice biometrics "may provide an interesting alternative to traditional card-based authentication."

"As the world has become more reliant on mobile phones, we are looking at newer and different functionalities like this that now fit the consumer's mobile lifestyle," he wrote. For example, Garanti Bank in Turkey, an NCR customer, is using a similar, one-time authorization through mobile phones in cases "where the customer may have lost their card or needs to give a relative temporary access to their account."

Avivah Litan, a vice president and research director at Gartner Inc., a market research company in Stamford, Conn., said she is "pretty upbeat about voice biometrics," which has been proposed by many companies for use in the phone channel.

Though the technology is reliable, it is not perfect, she said. Many systems have trouble recognizing users if they have a cold, for example, which is why she suggests installing a backup system, such as challenge questions or a secondary PIN, if voice authentication should fail.

"As long as you're backed up by a second factor, I think it's a great idea," she said.

For money movement, "all you're doing, conceptually, is opening up another authentication factor to the same account," Ms. Litan said. "You're basically enabling a temporary account owner."

Though it would seem less secure than wire transfers or paper checks, "this is actually better security than what you see today, where people are just sharing credentials," she said. For example, parents often let their children borrow their ATM card and PIN; whereas that card can be used for many transactions, voice authentication could guarantee that access is granted only once.

"This will probably eliminate a lot of opportunities for friendly fraud," Ms. Litan said, and it would encourage consumers to be more careful about how they share access to their accounts. "I think you'd be much more confident giving temporary access to your account than permanent access."

There are ways the system could be improved, she said. Since it does not check the location of the cell phone, banks should at least verify that it is in the same country as the ATM being accessed, she said.

The system should also be selective about which number it can call, she said. Rather than enter the cell phone number at the ATM, it would be more secure to have the system call a number that was already on file, she said.

Voice biometrics is "one of the only methods that you can use cross-channel," she said, so over time this system could be applied in other nonvoice channels besides the ATM.

© 2008 American Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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