V for Verify: Novia signs with Credas for biometric verification

  • Author : Gary Hilton
  • Date : 17 Aug 2020

The use of unique personal features for identification is not a new idea; this approach has been a key pillar of forensic science since the late 1800s, when French police officer Alphonse Bertillon applied the technique of anthropometry to law enforcement, creating an identification system based on physical measurements.

The notion that identification by means of ‘biometric verification’ could be made instantaneous by electronic gadgetry, however, seems far more futuristic. Indeed, it’s the stuff of Hollywood movies, evoking for many of us memories of pre-millennial science fiction: voice activated controls on the bridge of Starship Enterprise, Robocop identifying foes using facial recognition or Marty McFly fingerprint scanning to open his front door.

The premise that our face, our voice or our fingerprint could be used as a unique key made compelling viewing, but science fiction is often a parable for the misuse of technology and the very gadgetry that intrigued and excited us also gave us reason to be afraid, calling to mind the use of personal identities by totalitarian regimes as a means of control, George Orwell’s book 1984 being an obvious example.

I’m still waiting for my light sabre, but the ideas that the science fiction put forward were a precursor for real world innovation and application. Reality caught up with fiction in 2013 when Apple released the iPhone 5S, and it put such technology right in our hands – literally. This global endorsement allowed many to start trying it and trusting it. Other manufacturers and industries were quick to follow suit and now, in 2020, the usage is widespread.

The financial services market, however, is a somewhat different beast, and was slower to engage. Tech providers have a target demographic and that demographic will have been selected based on whether the product or service has engagement anticipated. A bank or a pension company has such a broad demographic that it would be inconceivable to expect meaningful investment into a technology that would only suit 25% of customers.

Novia’s exploration of this space started last year and was not actually initiated as a reactive move in response to the pandemic. It’s no secret that we aspire to maximise straight through processing and leverage technology to do so. We’ve been regularly asked why we’ve never made a move to digital signature software but we knew it didn’t fit our business, our usage or our aspirations. Signatures were one of several ways for us to verify client instructions, so when we were going to ultimately replace them, it had to be with a true verification product that would satisfy the needs of the now as well as the future.

After researching the market and conducting appropriate due diligence, we signed with facial recognition firm Credas. Credas allowed us to trial this technology without significant infrastructural and developmental cost, meaning that a gradual uptake was commercially viable.

Facial recognition works by measuring highly personal facial dimensions such as spacing between eyes and distance between lips and chin and then assessing these with an algorithm. The algorithm considers other factors such as ageing, hairstyle changes, lighting and expression. With the technology to capture a facial fingerprint (so to speak), the software will compare it against the photograph in a legal document to verify that this face matches as well as pulling the personal details via OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and comparing against our records. We also have the means to analyse the legal document for forgery or tampering. Consequently we gained the ability to verify an identity which is incalculably more difficult to circumvent than a wet signature.

From a Compliance & Risk perspective, it has always been a supported trajectory. Fraud and the methods facilitating acts of fraud are constantly becoming more sophisticated and verification methods need to keep pace. Signatures, whilst universally accepted as a means to attest agreement or permission are becoming less and less trusted as a form of identification and our obligation to safeguard client assets must evolve. We aren’t saying that signatures are a dead process, but what we are acknowledging is that signing an agreement and moving your child’s inheritance via several proxies are in different leagues and require different approaches.

Movement to a more advanced verification method inevitably means the gathering of more personal data. Personal data and the potential loss or misuse of that personal data has received significant press coverage over the last few years, with GDPR regulation coming into effect, and with the emergence of stories about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica reportedly using mined data for nefarious purposes. The desire for protection from identity theft and fraud is high, with the trust in technology and the technology vendors needing some positivity. This is an area where Novia now accepts different risk exposures, as a consequence of gathering more personal data. The result is that we had to ensure that this additional risk was comprehensively covered. All data gathered for this technology is held behind 2048 bit RSA encryption and you would need to count the time it would take a computer to crack it in the trillions of years.

We’re excited by this technology and we are enthusiastic by what propositional doors it opens now and what future opportunities it can offer our adviser community. We believe it delivers the integral level of protection from fraud and we encourage our adviser community to engage with it for the mutual benefit of you and your clients.

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