ATO voice recognition goes mobile as biometrics builds mass-market identity nous

Mainstream use of biometric authentication has taken a big step forward as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) begins using voice biometrics to replace security questions and passwords for taxpayers phoning the organisation's enquiry line.

The new system, which utilises voice biometrics technology from Nuance Communications, integrates voice recognition into the ATO's mobile app to extend its voice-biometrics usage across the full suite of online services available through its ATO app.

The ATO has worked to portray itself as pushing hard to boost its customer-service credentials, with an ongoing reinvention highlighting a commitment to tailoring products and services to taxpayers' needs.

Easier authentication forms a part of that change, with assistant commissioner John Dardo reiterating the ATO's commitment to “delivering a contemporary digital experience” that build on strong progress with voice authentication to date.

Customer feedback suggests repeat callers are saving up to 45 seconds per call by not having to clear the standard question-response authentication process. With the ATO handling some 7.2 million calls annually, the organisation says the new technology is saving 75,000 hours of agents' and customers' time each year.

Looking past conventional fingerprint scanning has helped organisations consider new roles for biometrics, Fujitsu principal advisor for technology and innovation for the Oceania region recently told CSO Australia.

“The ability to use biometrics in many forms is critical,” he said. “it's something that citizens are going to have to get comfortable with if we don't want identity crime to continue having an escalating impact. The way you go about telling the story ensures we pitch the benefits in the context of how it's going to help the citizens of Australia.”

The ATO has been collecting voiceprints for use during calls to its contact centre since last year, with some 1.5 million voiceprints already stored for recognition at the contact centre end.

Taxpayers must quote their tax file number (TFN) and two other forms of ID to confirm their identity when recording their passphrase, which is repeated on subsequent calls. The organisation touts benefits including ease of access, faster discussion of the taxpayer's account details, and improved security.

Voice biometrics has been flagged for years as a valuable tool in user recognition and was used for an early deployment at the National Australia Bank in 2009. Since then, the technology has seen increasing use that is helping Nuance further improve its capabilities in the area. The ATO's adoption of voice biometrics reinforces moves by the likes of Barclays Wealth & Investment Management, US Bank and even testing authority ETS, all of which have found biometrics to be a valuable addition to their services.

Microsoft's addition of biometrics to Windows 10 has been another strong step towards end-user acceptance, while Fujitsu last year announced technology that simplifies encryption by using biometric identifiers as encryption keys.

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Tags biometric authenticationDavid BraueNuance CommunicationsATOvoice recognitionprivacyCSO Australianew technology

More about Australian Taxation OfficeCSOMicrosoftNational Australia BankNuance

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