Thursday, 26 April 2012

Security, Reliability, Accessibility -
RNIB Accessible Banking Guide Launch

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB)’s Accessible Banking Guide, which CashFlows sponsored. The year since we started working with RNIB has introduced me to the concept of accessibility and drawn to attention how sidelined blind and partially sighted people can be when it comes to ever-expanding innovations in e-commerce and mobile, particularly in shopping and making payments. 
In what was a thought-provoking event, I thought the most interesting insight of the evening came from Lesley-Anne Alexander, CEO of the RNIB.  She pointed out that the priorities for blind and partially sighted people are wanting to the ability to manage their money confidently, confidentially and with ease – all of which apply equally to the population as a whole!
So what does accessibility really mean and how does it fit in with what we do? Entering card details into an online payment page can be extremely difficult for a typical RNIB user. This is where VoicePay comes in. By associating a card with your unique ‘voice signature’, a user is able to sign for transactions just by speaking into their phone, removing many of the issues a blind or partially sighted people face and providing a more convenient solution to everyone shopping online.
The challenge with any biometric technology is in moving from a place where it is more akin to ‘Mission Impossible’ (the only reference for most people when I talk about voice biometrics!)  to a technology that is well-known and, more importantly, trusted . The core reason why I see such opportunities for voice biometrics is that it is almost unique in combining security for a business and usability for an end consumer.    
In developing accessible banking and payment solutions, some small adjustments are needed – examples on display last night included talking ATMs, easier to view online banking portals and our own voice authentication technology. We are not talking about fully alternative solutions, indeed the feedback we received on VoicePay from an RNIB user group will benefit every one of the growing number of users signing up for the service!
In the words of Rosemary Thorndycraft, an RNIB Ambassador, making small adjustments “makes you feel the same as everyone else”, which is incredibly important when coming to terms with losing your sight. If VoicePay can play a small part in helping the RNIB reach their accessibility goals, I would be exceptionally proud.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Banking innovation and the customer

Banking is not a world often associated with innovation.  If anything, banking customers have previously sought out stable and conservative banks – the ones that you can trust with your money.  Furthermore, few question their banking loyalties, happily sticking with their long-trusted bank, regardless of offers and products elsewhere.

Account switching is more prominent amongst businesses than consumers but even then, banks benefit from a high level of indifference from their customer base when it comes to moving banks.

A combination of the financial crisis and technological advances has changed this. The growth in innovative financial tools has also increased competition, with the emergence of new players looking to capitalise on business and consumer appetite for improved banking products.  But what are these tools, and how are they impacting different types of customers?

Mobile banking is comparatively new, but is already regarded by many, especially the new generation of consumers and businesses, as an essential tool.  It is not, therefore, too difficult to imagine that customers could switch banking provider in order to gain access to more user-friendly online or mobile banking solutions.
Contactless payment capability (NFC) has been long-talked about, in terms of the convenience it will provide to customers and businesses, but few banks have really put themselves out there to promote such a service on a large scale implementation.

For small businesses and the self-employed, mobile payments offer the opportunity to improve their business models; take the example of taxi drivers who can take payments via a touch pad in the back of their cabs, or plumbers who can ask customers for an immediate mobile payment, rather than send an invoice or receive a cheque.

Innovation for consumers is often the focus but small businesses can also reap the rewards of technological breakthroughs. E-invoicing, the ability to check and pay invoices online, generates both cost and time savings, improved accuracy and cash flow improvements for businesses.  Ultimately, e-invoicing offerings could be a key deciding factor for businesses when choosing a bank, for example.

It is clear that the times are changing, with a wide range of products and financial services to satisfy tech-hungry customers. It is great to see banks and financial institutions providing innovative solutions for small businesses. Everyone has a right to choose the financial services most appropriate to their needs – are banks finally realising that the customer is king?

Monday, 23 April 2012

The human voice, as game changer

Siri IconI read an interesting article in The New York Times called  'The human voice, as game changer'. Obviously it's about the human voice as you might guess from the title but what will our voice change? It's almost 30 years ago that commercial speech recognition systems became sophisticated enough to transcribe spoken words into text. Now Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the Apple iPhone 4S, has opened a whole new level of that technology.

Only a few years ago the idea of telling your mobile to send a receipt to your mum sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. Thanks to Nuance technology this is no longer a topic for a science fiction movie, it has become reality. Undoubtly this technology will be taken on by many more mobile device companies and it will change other industries thereafter. Search engines, for example, will have to reinvent themselves because services such as Siri are getting the information straight from the website and only use search engines when they cannot find the requested information.

Siri makes it easy and convenient to find a florist to order flowers for a loved one. Imagine you can go one step further. You not only find the florist you were looking for, you also order a bouquet and pay for it with your voice. The time is over where you have to carry cards around or have to rembember PINs. All you need is your mobile and an active VoicePay account to make secure payments.

While Siri's voice recognition software breaks down spoken words into sound waves and uses algorithms to identify the most likely words formed by the sounds, VoicePay goes a step further and identifies the unique signature of your voice. A voice has over 100 separate characteristics, two and a half times more than the 40 characterics a fingerprint has, which makes it one of the most secure authentication technologies available today.

While the technology is complicated VoicePay is pretty straight forward for anyone to use. The voice verification process should take no longer than 15 seconds, all you have to do is say your name and mobile number. If you want to find out more about VoicePay go to

Let's change the future of how we make payments...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Creating a Cashless World

Back at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, Eric Schmidt the Google chairman revealed that the company had once toyed with the idea of issuing its own currency. Google Bucks, as it was to be called, was intended to be a virtual currency for peer-to-peer payments.

Google however soon discovered a mire of regulatory and legal issues which varied from territory-to-territory; governments are obviously concerned on how easy monies could be laundered within such a system. Unable to easily fulfill these requirements Google shelved their Bucks idea…

Meanwhile that very same week Barclays launches its Pingit service on the UK with Apps on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. If you haven’t heard already, Pingit gives consumers an easy way to send money to family, friends or small businesses using just a mobile number. With 20,000 downloads in the first 48 hours Pingit has certainly chimed with some consumers and has left other UK banks scrambling to launch similar services.

If that wasn’t enough last week the service was opened up to all current account holders in the UK whether they’re with Barclays or not, suddenly the service has a potential market of 93 per cent of the UK adult population.

With this is mind I signed up to Pingit in the hope of trying the service but eventually found the whole experience falling short of my expectations; although I have a current account with Barclays I chose to use Pingit with another provider, and this ultimately was my downfall.

After following the various on-screen prompts, keying in my personal details, tying the App to my phone number and the service to my current account I finally found myself dropped from the digital dream back into reality. Reason being the very last requirement before I could taste the Pingit experience was for me to take into a local branch my driving license and paper copies of bank statements.

Learning this at the end, from a user experience, is poor and will undoubtedly curb Pingit’s adoption but worse for me was knowing that this final hurdle could had been overcome using alternative digital services such as KYC Secure.

KYC Secure allows the existing manual processes that are used to meet Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering checks (AML) to be automated, therefore reducing the need for customers to produce physical utility bills, driving licenses and passport to prove their identity.

Allowing a customer to securely validate their identity using Voice biometrics is almost a match made in heaven for Mobile orientated service like Pingit. Innovative services like KYC Secure can span the gap which Google and Barclays couldn’t bridge and I for one am looking forward to seeing peer-to-peer payments in peoples hands soon.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Mobile payments – is the public ready to trust yet?

On the surface of things, it is unsurprising that figures released this week suggest that mobile payments are the future.  KPMG predicts that global m-payment transactions will grow 97% per year, over the next three years, reaching a value of £591 billion by 2015. They are not the only ones who think this is true; business intelligence consultancy, Berg Insight, says there will be 894m worldwide users of mobile banking by 2015.

Yet, when Barclay’s Pingit, a mobile app which allows the peer-to-peer money transfer via a mobile phone, was released in February 2012, the reaction was mixed.  Naturally there was much fanfare about this innovative step; the videos showing a group of friends going out for a meal and splitting the bill with their mobiles made many wonder how we have ever survived without such a tool.  Yet the announcement also raised questions, specifically around how secure such payment methods are.

Barclays assured the public that Pingit payments are as secure as any regular banking transaction, yet public reaction remained varied.  At the time of the announcement, The Telegraph ran an online poll entitled, ‘Do you trust mobile phone banking?’ 49.05% stated that they trust this method, whilst 22.83% said no.  A significant 28.12% said they will trust mobile phone banking in the future, but they aren’t there yet.  These figures, and our experience from Internet banking, suggest that the public will come round to trusting such services, but financial institutions and telecoms companies still have to reassure and educate users.

The forecasts released this week allow us to assume that consumers will be won over in the battle between convenience and security.  It’s not hard to see why; the next generation of consumers coming through expect to be able to make real-time, cashless payments.  It is also clear when we look to other markets – in Japan about 50% of all grocery payments are already made by mobile phones – that there is public demand for this service.  Furthermore, there is the argument that mobile payments are at least as secure as any other financial transfer. In which case, once the convenience factor is demonstrated, it won’t be long before consumers start to leave behind their security worries and embrace mobile payments.

No, the public may not be ready to trust yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cybercrime and online fraud: your tools against the fraudsters

Last week saw a number of reports released about the UK’s continued battle against cybercrime and fraud, with the financial services sector highlighted as taking the brunt of the problem.

PricewaterhouseCooper’s global economic crime survey shows that cybercrime is on the rise, accounting for 38% of economic crime incidents in the financial services industry.  The Annual Fraud Indicator from the National Fraud Authority was also released last week, with the shocking statistic that fraud in 2011/2012 cost the UK economy £73 billion.  At a time of economic hardship, Government cutbacks and a difficult trading environment, this is money that the UK can ill afford to lose.  

Such surveys will inevitably result in headlines that focus on the staggering cost of fraud in relation to the UK’s flat-lining economy, but hopefully they will also open the door to a serious discussion about how to tackle this problem.  There are a range of fraud-tackling technology solutions available and it is imperative that we all have full knowledge of the options available to us.  

Take the example of biometrics.  Biometric security in identification processes is not a new concept.  The unique nature of an individual’s fingerprints has long been recognised as an accurate form of identification.  Indeed, 50% of the public is aware of biometrics, and of those, 85% understands fingerprint technology.  But the appreciation of voice biometrics as a valid security tool is still growing.  Whereas a fingerprint has approximately 40 unique characteristics, a voice has over 100 separate characteristics, making it one of the most secure authentication technologies available.

Yes, fraud is on the rise, but the technology to combat it is ever more sophisticated.  Biometric identification is no longer a future possibility, but a realistic solution to a growing challenge, and banks, business owners and consumers alike need to recognise this, if they are to stay ahead of the fraudsters.