HSBC introduces facial tracking authentication for the selfie generation

UK bank HSBC is allowing new business banking customers to open an account entirely through its smartphone app, allowing it so make constant references to selfies.

The practice of taking photos of yourself with the front-facing camera of a smartphone – selfies – has been appropriated by social commentators as a definitive characteristic of the smartphone generation, with many even citing it as conclusive evidence of an epidemic of narcissism. Since they are principally referring to teenagers however, who are by definition self-absorbed, that might be a conclusion too far.

Nonetheless smartphones are here to stay and are increasingly our gateway to all manner of financial services. So HSBC wants to make things easier by allowing its business customers to just take a selfie, which the app then compares to a preloaded photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport – a bit like those automated passport checking machines in airport immigration halls.

“Through simplifying the ID verification process, we’ll be able to save our business customers time and open accounts quicker,” said HSBC’s Head of Global Propositions for Commercial Banking, Richard Davies. “We also expect the convenience and speed of a ‘selfie’ to become the verification method of choice for our customers, who no longer need to visit a branch to complete the process.”

Paco Garcia, CTO of UK smartphone ID startup Yoti, likes the move. “Today’s announcement from HSBC affirms the idea that banks are showing more support for biometric authentication than ever before,” he said.

“Aside from straightforward security improvement, there are other major benefits for banks adopting biometric authentication. Better fraud detection, better identity management, better audit trails, better internal controls and, as a result of all of that, more trust from consumers. And really, it’s no surprise that banking and payment processors are moving so quickly to adopt these new processes – they are under huge competitive pressure from digitally native, mobile experience focused newcomers.”

Richard Lack, Director of Sales – EMEA, at ID management outfit Gigya, is similarly upbeat. “Critics argue wrongly that authentication using selfies is gimmicky, and somehow less secure, when in truth this is a brilliant application of well-proven facial recognition technology which has been around for decades in a way which makes it appeal to target customers, who value convenience and ease of access to their banking facilities, but refuse to compromise security,” he said.

From a mobile perspective this is another acknowledgement of smartphones as the main way in which people interact with the digital world. Smartphones have a lot more sensors and assorted electronic wizardry that even PC and, of course, they’re always with you. The only concern associated with this march of progress is the increasingly catastrophic consequences of losing your phone.

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