Please-say-your-name-three-times: Biometric ID is for real

16:00, Nov 14 2011

There should soon be no need to remember a password or recount your date of birth or cat's favourite colour when doing business with government agencies and banks over the phone.

Inland Revenue has joined Work and Income in allowing callers to have their voices recorded and recognised so they don't need to prove their identity through any other means the next time they call.

The agencies have stolen a march on the banks. Bank of New Zealand owner National Australia Bank is using biometric voice identification to check customers' identities in Australia but banks have yet to implement the time-saving technology in New Zealand.

Mike Banbrook, sales manager at technology company Salmat, said that would change. He was confident all banks would adopt voice biometrics instead of phone-banking passwords and security questions, but said the case was less compelling than for government agencies as banks dealt with lower volumes.

Inland Revenue began providing voice identification as an option four weeks ago and has so far enrolled 10,000 customers, contact centre manager Valerie Price said. It aims to increase that number to 800,000 within a year.

But Work and Income has the most experience with the technology, having signed up 15,000 clients since it introduced it in July.


Social Development Ministry regional commissioner Gagau Annandale Stone said the biggest challenge for Work and Income had proven to be if clients called on mobile phones, because their poorer quality and background noise made checks less reliable.

About 38 per cent of calls to its contract centre are made on mobiles.

Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees are considering improving the quality of mobile phone calls by upgrading their networks to a new technology, HD Voice, that would make calls less "tinny" and could help solve that problem.

Work and Income national operations manager Tony Stenhouse said biometric identity checks had proved popular with clients.

Only 3 per cent declined to be enrolled in the system.

The system had so far performed 50,000 identity checks with "no complaints and no privacy breaches".


If Work and Income call centre staff are talking with a client who phones the department regularly and is speaking on a good-quality landline, they will ask if the client would like to enroll in the biometric voice identification system. If they agree, the client is redirected to a system that can analyse their voice and asked to read out their nine-digit client number three times. All clients are asked to read out their client number when they call the department. If they have previously enrolled for voice identification and their voice is successfully matched, they are put straight through to an operator who doesn't then need to do any further identity checks. Work and Income turns down the sensitivity of the system if clients are calling from a mobile and carries out an extra check that the number has been registered with the department as theirs. Voice identification works 80 per cent of time. Work and Income expects that to improve and claims there is only a one-in-400-million chance of a false match. Work and Income says the system shaves 28 seconds off the average length of calls to its contact centres and has improved interactions with clients, which were once marred by the need to carry out manual identity checks.

Waikato Times