‘Voice Biometrics Enhancing the Customer Experience,’ Tanya Smith, Head of Customer Experience, Citi Australia

Tanya Smith

“While conversational banking is still in its infancy, chat bots can make authentication faster and easier and enable providers to better understand and serve their customers…”

Let’s face it, trying to remember complicated passwords, PINs and usernames can be torturous and time-consuming when you’re on the go and trying to make payments or access your money.

Spending lengthy periods on the phone to your bank trying to verify who you are is actually one of the biggest pain points for any customer, and it can leave a lasting negative impression that is hard to shake.

That’s why Citi has worked hard over recent years to deliver a more remarkable experience for its customers – changing the narrative from “Who Are You?” to “How Can I Help You?” – with the introduction of voice biometric authentication.

For Citi and its 15 million banking customers across the Asia Pacific region, this next-gen technology is a real game-changer because it provides a faster, safer and simpler form of verification.

So far, more than one millions customers across Asia Pacific region including 170,000 customers in Australia and New Zealand have embraced voice biometric authentication, which means they are identified by their unique voice print in just a few seconds.

The Citi Voice Biometric system from NICE works by cross-checking around 130 different vocal characteristics, including how fast we talk and how we pronounce certain words.

Because we all have a voiceprint that is unique and non-transferable, it’s a much safer process than relying on passwords or PINs that can easily be cracked, or documents that can be forged.

What we’ve noticed since launching voice biometrics in May last year is that we can now identify customers in the first 15 seconds of a conversation, without them having to answer any verifying questions.

Given customers previously spent an average 45 seconds confirming their identity, we’ve been able to improve the time it takes to authenticate customers by a staggering 66 per cent.

When you consider that Citi’s Asia Pacific call centres handle around 35 million calls every year, that’s a lot of time we have freed up for customers and that puts them in a much better frame of mind for engagement.

It’s also saved time and effort for Citi’s relationship managers who no longer have to reset lost or compromised passwords. Instead, they can spend more time meeting the needs of customers and providing a superior banking experience.

Some other noticeable benefits we’ve seen since deploying voice biometrics include:

Significantly lower number of calls to our CitiPhone call centres from customers requesting password resets and related technical support issues;

  • Enhanced customer experience, particularly for the elderly and vision impaired, by removing complexity and frustration in the authentication process;
  • Fewer customers hanging up because they grow impatient;
  • A strong adoption rate across all customer demographics.


These results tell us that, in the same way that traditional face-to-face banking is slowly falling out of favour, so too are old style means of authentication and verification.

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of where technology can take us as an organisation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and conversational interfaces like ‘chat bots’ are a natural next step on our journey to enhance the customer experience.

While conversational banking is still in its infancy, chat bots can make authentication faster and easier and enable providers, like Citi, to better understand and serve their customers.

Because chat bots work within existing social messaging platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp, and SMS – which already have considerably insights about the user – they can securely authenticate banking customers without them having to log into their bank’s app.

And that’s really the big motivator here; customers want a better, faster and more personal experience that is available anywhere, and at any time.

Citi continues to invest in smart technology while ensuring this appetite for mobile payments and digital banking is compatible with today’s security and compliance requirements.

In the United States, for example, we recognised that different customers want different things. When we recently updated the Citigold banking app we allowed customers to log in using a range of biometric authentication methods, including fingerprint, voice and facial recognition. Clients may choose among five modes of authentication, including traditional PIN and password options.

There is also enormous potential for biometric options to be included in Citi’s proprietary mobile wallet, Citi Pay, which was launched last November for online, in-app, and in-store payments.

All in all, creating a positive and memorable customer experience involves a lot of moving parts. But by tackling some of the obvious pain points – like out-dated authentication – it shows what’s good for customers will ultimately be good for business.