Cheques to be paid in via smartphone

woman photographs cheque
Account holders in the US can already pay in cheques via mobile phones
Plans have been announced to allow bank customers to pay cheques into their account by taking photos on their smartphones.

Rather than go to the bank in person, customers will be able to photograph the cheque, and send it electronically.

The government is to launch a consultation on the idea, with a view to making the necessary legal changes.

The technology will also allow cheques to be cleared in two days, rather than the six it takes at the moment.

Banks say the new transfer method will be more convenient, and more secure.

“Moving into a virtual world will actually create a more secure customer experience than the paper experience today,” said Antony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays.

Such photos would not be stored on the phone itself, so there should be no security risk if a phone was stolen.

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antony jenkins

I think people are going into branches less and less, particularly as a result of mobile banking”

Antony JenkinsChief executive, Barclays

Similar technology was introduced in the United States nine years ago, following the attack on the World Trade Centre.

A new law known as Check 21 was passed, to enable banks to process cheques electronically, rather than having to transport paper versions across the country.


The government believes a change in the law in the UK would also promote the continuing use of cheques.

The UK Payments Council was originally planning to abolish all cheque payments by 2018, but was forced to change its mind after public opposition.

“We want to see more innovation so that customers see the benefits of new technologies,” said Sajid Javid, the financial secretary to the Treasury.

“We want cheques to have a crucial role in the ongoing success of the UK,” he added.

In 2012, 10% of all payments by individuals were made by cheque, and 25% of payments by businesses.

The industry says most younger account-holders already use electronic systems of payment, and rarely use cheques.

However all customers will still be able to pay in cheques by posting them to their bank, or by visiting their bank directly.

phone and cheque
Greater use of banking technology is hastening branch closures

Branch closures

Barclays is planning to launch a pilot programme for paying in cheques via phone from April 2014.

It hopes to launch a service for all its customers later in the year.

But the new technology is likely to raise further questions about the size of the branch network, as customers turn to banking via PCs and mobiles.

Last month Barclays announced 1700 further job losses in its High Street branches, as a direct result of mobile technology.

In the year to July 2013 it closed 37 branches, and it has hinted at more closures to come.

“I think people are going into branches less and less, particularly as a result of mobile banking, and that’s going to accelerate the process,” Antony Jenkins told the BBC.

The bank is in the process of moving eight of its branches into stores operated by Asda.

A spokesman said customers would always be able to pay their cheques in at a branch if they wanted to.

Hello, is that really you?

Big business wants your voice – not for customer feedback, but to tackle fraud.

Voice biometrics – the recording and analysis of unique voiceprints for authentication purposes – is one of the latest technological weapons being deployed in the war against fraudsters, thought to be pilfering at least £52bn from the UK economy each year, according to the National Fraud Authority (NFA).

Man in mask

UK financial services companies alone are conservatively estimated to be losing more than £5bn annually, the NFA says.

But the real figures are likely to be two or three times higher than this as so much fraud goes unreported.

Identity theft and account takeover are a big and growing problem, particularly in a digital era that has been a boon to fraudsters by presenting them with many more ways to harvest personal data.


The main advantage of voice is that it is much harder to spoof and steal.

“Voice is a dynamic form of biometrics, rather than static like a fingerprint, so it is harder to replicate and copy digitally,” says Emmanuelle Filsjean, global head of marketing for ValidSoft, which advises retail banks on security and helps European governments tackle cross-border benefit fraud.

Digital voiceprints contain over 100 identifiable elements. And, by using complex mathematical algorithms and the latest high-definition audio equipment, voice biometric companies believe they can now identify people accurately more than 97% of the time.

Even identical twins, who share the same DNA, can be told apart from their voiceprints, making the technology reliable enough to be used as evidence in courts of law.


Voice is crucial because call centres are still the main way we interact with companies, despite the rise of online banking and shopping.

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Most financial institutions and big service providers around the world are actively considering adopting voice biometrics”

Almog Aley-Raz Nuance

Traditional authentication measures, involving personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, and “memorable” answers to stock questions, have proved fallible, largely because we are fallible – we keep forgetting them.

This is why we choose ludicrously simple PINs and passwords that are easy for us to remember – and therefore for others to guess.

Fraud investigators have found that about 10% of four-digit PINs stolen by fraudsters are simply 1-2-3-4, while banks report legitimate customers failing call centre authentication procedures 10% to 20% of the time because they cannot remember their security details.

“You can’t forget your voice,” says Prof Levent Arslan, chief executive of Sestek, a technology company that helped Turkish mobile phone company Avea register one million voiceprints in a year.

Your voice is also easy to use.

Heads and babble
No two people sound alike – not even identical twins

“Using our voice is the most intuitive way of interacting,” says Ms Filsjean.


While no biometrics security system is totally foolproof, fraudsters using high-definition recordings of someone’s telephone pass phrase should still be caught out, voice biometrics companies maintain, because even the highest-quality recordings use some form of compression that blunts the highest and lowest frequencies.

Even a slight mismatch with the customer’s voiceprint will trigger a “live test” conversation that is almost impossible for fraudsters to spoof, particularly if they’ve only got a recording to use.

Barclays‘ private banking arm, Barclays Wealth, claims great success after implementing voice biometrics.

Before introducing the technology, it found that 25% of fraudulent phone calls to its agents were able to bypass the bank’s security systems. Fraudsters using “social engineering” techniques – or blagging in the vernacular – were able to elicit security details from agents.

The bank would not disclose how much money was being lost as a result.

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This has profound implications for fraud detection

Richard Newton OP3NVoice

Barclays says that now the number of successful fraudulent calls is zero, because it uses technology from the company behind Apple iPhone’s Siri speech recognition system, Nuance, a leader in the field.

The voiceprints of suspected fraudsters are kept on a watchlist so they can be identified if they try again pretending to be someone else.


Slovakian Tatra Bank is currently rolling out a voice biometric system that will authenticate customer identities while they are speaking to call centre agents.

About 10 to 15 seconds of natural conversation is enough to match the voiceprint with the one the bank has on record.

Turkish mobile phone operator, Turkcell, now has about 10 million customer voiceprints on its database.

“Most financial institutions and big service providers around the world are actively considering adopting voice biometrics,” says Almog Aley-Raz, head of voice biometrics for Nuance.

The tricky part is enrolling customers in the scheme, as different jurisdictions have their own privacy laws governing voice recording.

girl with bubble
Voice and speech analytics are finally getting a voice

“In many cases there is ambiguity around the collection and use of biometrics,” says Mr Aley-Raz. “But our best practice recommendation to our customers is to obtain consent for using the technology.

“Regardless of whether a given jurisdiction has specific provision for the use of biometrics, biometric data is personal, private, and should be treated with the same care as any other data of that type.”

Voice biometrics alone is not enough to combat fraud, however. Other technologies, such as communications data analytics, must come into play.


All UK financial institutions have had to record phone calls for years, and this has led to gargantuan amounts of data sitting in servers, largely ignored. But now audio and video search software, coupled with sophisticated analytical tools, is making this data mountain much more easily accessible and useful.

“The enormously sophisticated technologies that dig into written communication are now being switched to the spoken word,” says Richard Newton, co-founder of OP3NVoice, a technology company specialising in searchable audio and video recording.

biometrics word cloud

“This has profound implications for fraud detection. Analysis of emotions, stress, sentiment, and meaning is a fast-developing area.”

What you say, how you say it, when, where and to whom, can all be weighted by algorithms that learn to spot suspicious or anomalous patterns of behaviour.

As Glenn Perachio, forensics specialist at accountancy firm Ernst & Young, says: “It’s like searching for a hay-coloured needle in a haystack, so you need to adopt techniques, such as machine learning, topic modelling, and geo-spatial mapping, to help narrow down the search for that evidence of malfeasance.”

Voice biometrics and speech analytics, it seems, are finally striking a true – and productive – note.