Biometrics may at the outset seem like a space-age, technology driven discipline, but using unique physical characteristics as identifying features is nothing new. Artefacts discovered in ancient Babylon and China have been uncovered bearing handprints and fingerprints that scholars believe were used for everything from business to criminal prosecution. Technology, and a greater understanding of what makes humans unique on a biological and behavioural level, have accelerated and expanded the biometric field to practically limitless applications in the modern business landscape.
From the fingerprint scanners that we use to get into the office every day, to the nifty facial recognition features being used to unlock smartphones, biometrics has been sneaking stealthily into our lives for years. But in an age where so much of our daily lives is carried out remotely and online, threats of cybercrime and fraud are driving a new wave of biometric controls that are being layered over our personal and professional online functions, with surprising urgency and a vast array of innovative techniques.
It’s safe to say that digital banking has surpassed real-world banking in much of the developed world. Thanks to the need for ever-improving customer service, ever higher levels of speed and efficiency, as well as the limitless financial and reputational risks that go along with online financial services, banks, insurers and other financial service providers are embracing biometrics like never before to gain the competitive edge over their peers.
In the financial services sector in particular, we are bound to see more and more biometrics being made use of in unobtrusive and creative ways over the next few years. We live in a mobile age, and people are understandably less and less eager to go into their bank branch unnecessarily. And since customer service and digital security are two of the biggest opportunities for both consumer and commercial banks to differentiate themselves from the competition, the race is on to incorporate biometrics in meaningful and original ways.
From established, old-world techniques such as fingerprint recognition, to more advanced applications like voice recognition and iris scanning, the reliability of these technologies is growing in leaps and bounds – but it’s not quite foolproof. Not yet, anyway.
A burn or scar could make fingerprint identification difficult, while a cold could affect our ability to use voice identification. Even the unique patterns of our irises have been known to change over time. The real power of biometrics is not in its ability to completely replace the identifiers we rely on today, but to add an extra layer of security and convenience to transactions without affecting speed, efficiency, or the customer experience.
Balancing this trade-off between security and user-experience will divide the winners from the losers in the coming years, and biometric measures are helping organisations around the world to add new levels of excellence to both. As we continue to see ever-more creative developments in this field, it’s becoming clear that biometric technologies are no longer a gimmick, but are part and parcel of the merge we are seeing between the real world and the digital, contributing to a more seamless transition for both organisations and individual consumers.
Davina Myburgh is the Director of Core Credit for TransUnion Africa.