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From Fingerprints To Faces: Bank of America Explores Biometrics’ Next Phase

Consumers are generally accustomed to using a fingerprint to unlock their banking apps – but, are they willing to use their face – and do they think it’s secure? In this month’s PYMNTS Digital Identity Tracker™, powered by Socure, Hari Gopalkrishnan, managing director of consumer facing platforms and technology for Bank of America, discusses the bank’s efforts to make biometrics appealing authentication options for consumers, including its facial biometrics pilot program with Samsung. Find that, plus headlines and rankings of 130 digital identity players, inside the Tracker.

No matter how impressive new technology is, its fate often lives and dies with consumer adoption. After all, if no one wants to use a new piece of tech, it doesn’t matter how groundbreaking an innovation it might be — it probably won’t be around for long.

According to Hari Gopalkrishnan, managing director of consumer facing platforms and technology for Bank of America, that’s especially true when it comes to digital identity security and protection technology for banks and other financial institutions. Because, if consumers find an authentication method to be cumbersome, intrusive or difficult to set-up and interact with frequently, they may choose not to use it at all. That could leave their digital identities more easily exposed to fraudsters, hackers and other bad actors.

“We need to know what our customers really want to use before we can commercialize something and put it out to [them],” Gopalkrishnan said. “Once we know they want something, then we can make it part of our platform, because then we’re confident they’ll use it and not leave themselves vulnerable.”

That can be a tough balance to strike, since new authentication methods like biometrics often offer increased protection and convenience for consumers, but are more intrusive and personal than a username and password. So, Gopalkrishnan said in a recent interview with PYMNTS, for Bank of America, finding that balance often means working with partners who already know how to make interacting with authentication methods like biometric security a positive experience for consumers.

Partnering to provide a better experience

Most recently, the bank has partnered with electronics giant Samsung, which has experience creating biometric authentication for smartphones and other mobile devices. The companies are developing new iris scanning authentication techniques to enable a customer to access the BoA mobile banking app via a photo of his or her eye.

The partnership is part of the bank’s larger effort to learn what customers do and don’t like about biometric authentication methods, and how they react to different security protocols, Gopalkrishnan explained.

“What we’re trying to test and learn with this partnership is how iris scanning will integrate into our framework,” he said. “We want to find out what the usability of that feature is like. For an example, given a choice between fingerprint and iris scanning, how often do they prefer one versus the other, and why [do] they prefer that method of authentication?”

Bank of America’s research is not limited to working with Samsung, though. The company has partnered with other technology providers and payments companies that are familiar with creating the protection protocols consumers find unobtrusive. These partnerships include Microsoft and PayPal, both for security and identity protection efforts.

Gopalkrishnan said the bank is eager to forge partnerships with a wide array of experienced providers in the space, and to offering services that find the right balance between user experience and stringent security.

“We’ve done some pilots where customers tell us that it’s too convoluted, or too cumbersome, and they won’t use it, so we don’t implement it,” he said. “But we also learn a lot about what our consumers do and don’t want from those partnerships. And that’s really what we want to get out of these pilots and partnerships. We want them to educate and inform us about what consumers want to do and what they won’t do.”

The next phase of biometrics

With the Samsung partnership, Bank of America is exploring biometric authentication methods outside of the more commonly used fingerprint method. That’s largely because the familiar method consumers have used to access their Apple smartphones is now starting to shift.

Earlier this month, Apple made waves when it announced the debut of its top-of-the-line iPhone X and the elimination of the home button on the device. Apple explained the removal of the button, which also means the elimination of fingerprint scanning as device authentication, was a step toward creating a more seamless design, much the way the venerable headphone jack was cast aside with the launch of the iPhone 7. With the new iPhone X, users will instead have the option to unlock their phones via face scans.

Gopalkrishnan explained that, as new consumer products and innovations become widely adopted, the bank must respond by creating authentication techniques customized to benefit those devices.

“We introduced Fingerprint and Touch ID sign-in capabilities and banking authentication capabilities in 2015 because we knew that it was more secure than other alternatives, and customers had shown they wanted to use this method,” he said. “Our customers loved it, and they adopted it quickly. Now, we have to find [a] way to make facial or iris scanning something consumers want to use and [prove] is still more secure than other methods.”Along with researching iris scanning with Samsung,

Along with researching iris scanning with Samsung, Gopalkrishnan said Bank of America is eager to partner with other technology and security providers to keep pace in a rapidly changing world and industry.

“It’s been crucial for us to build this framework where we can quickly add new capabilities and partnerships, and verify that those are, in fact, as secure and as easily integrated as they need to be for our customers,” Gopalkrishnan said. “As we see innovation and evolution in the digital identity marketplace, we want to be able to adapt. And, the reality is that the industry is evolving pretty quickly, so we have to be able to adapt quickly as well.”

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