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Biometric banking and security: How has fintech changed the way we bank?

02 March, 2016Liam Mandeville

The humble fingerprint sensor is no longer a gimmick. For millions of people their fingerprint is the key to unlocking their digital data and financial information.


Even a few years ago the thought of being able to access our financial information using our fingerprint felt like something out of a sci-fi movie. However, in a few short years using our fingerprint to access our smartphones has become the norm. I couldn’t tell you how many times I use my TouchID sensor on my iPhone on a daily basis.

Last week HSBC announced that it was replacing passwords with fingerprint and voice recognition 1 for its 15 million users. The bank says that this move helps to protect vulnerable customers who forget their logins or use the same password for different online accounts.

So what might be driving this change in biometric security? The banks obviously feel that it is the right time to do this and are confident that customers will be comfortable accessing their accounts this way.

The first major factor is of course lazy password word habits. A YouGov survey commissioned by HSBC found that 55% of respondents rarely changed their passwords. And even then these passwords are not really secure. Password management Security Company, Splashdata, published the most commonly used passwords in 2015, and on top came passwords like ‘123456’ or ‘password’.

The second driving force is the availability of software. Technology is moving at such an incredible rate; there are hundreds of start-ups researching and developing security software. Apple’s TouchID hardware for example was developed from AuthenTec, an Australian computer security company that was purchased by Apple for $356 million in 2012. This technology was then incorporated into the iPhone 5S in 2013. More recently Apple acquired facial recognition firm Emotient, which came four months after it had also purchased speech recognition firm Vocal IQ 5. Rumours are that the company is looking to explore security related uses for this technology to incorporate in future products.

The final driving factor is the growth of smartphones. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility report there were a total 7.3 billion mobile subscriptions at the end of 2015. Smartphones accounted for 75% of all phones sold in Q4 2015 6. This hasn’t even got started when you consider that companies like Apple have only recently started to sell their phones in places like China and India. Growth and demand will fuel further innovation from the handset manufactures’ and have a knock on effect on industries like the financial services as these devices become and ever increasingly important to our day-to-day lives. You only need to look at how the smartphone has already disrupted banking is such a short time.

As we rely on more heavily on biometric security to secure our data and financial information, how can we be sure it is truly secure? Regardless of how secure the hardware and software becomes, some things are out of our control. Just last week Apple revealed that they had been requested by the FBI to create a new piece of software that will allow them to break the iOS operating system's password protection. Apple said in a letter to their customers published on their website, that this has dangerous implications. Whatever your views on protecting personal information as users we must be prepared to accept that nothing will be truly be 100% secure.