How AI and Facial Recognition Are Impacting the Future of Banking

Is your PIN about to be replaced by your face?

A woman uses an ATM with facial recognition technology during the presentation of the new service by CaixaBank in Barcelona on February 14, 2019.
A woman uses an ATM with facial recognition technology during the presentation of the new service by CaixaBank in Barcelona on February 14, 2019. LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

So, I just got the new iPhone 11 Pro. I have to say, I pretty much love the facial recognition unlock feature. And no, Apple is not paying me to say that. Prior, I was a facial recognition skeptic. But now, I can unlock my phone… with my face! I love it, but I’m also slightly scared at the possibilities of what other people could do if they get access to my face without my knowledge. Better keep my face to myself.

It was only a matter of time before we heard about the financial services industry adopting innovative biometrics technology for access management of private information. In other words: Banks are using facial recognition.

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Sounds practical. Sounds scary. Sounds both practical and scary. I’ve seen the John Woo movie, Face/Off, and I’m well aware of how this could all go horribly wrong.

“The financial sector understands the constant need for new and ever-improving security measures better than most industries, because of the implicit risk of being a bank,” Shaun Moore, co-founder and CEO of Trueface, told Observer. “There are people trying to hack, rob or defraud this industry every single day.”

Moore’s company is working with some of the top global banks to infuse facial recognition into existing security and access management infrastructure.

“We are seeing the financial services sector test face recognition as a part of multi-factor authentication for ATM withdrawals, mobile banking enrollment and mobile account access and transactions,” said Moore. “By implementing face recognition as the key step in multi-factor authentication, banks are able to mitigate their exposure to risk and fraud, saving themselves millions of dollars in the process.”

Good point. Don’t we all like saving millions of dollars in the process? I know I do.

What we can expect from our sci-fi financial transactions in the next five to 10 years is a federated identity across the digital and physical banking world—where your face will be the key to accessing your banking information, transacting and securing your account. The aim is to reduce fraud and lead to more secure financial data. Mexico has already adopted a biometric security mandate, which Moore sees as a trend that will be spread first to South America and eventually to the U.S.  

“Whether you are withdrawing money from an ATM or you enter a bank’s physical branch, our goal is to provide an extremely frictionless, personalized experience with a focus on security,” he said.  

Moore sees the adoption of facial recognition repositioning the financial sector as a leader in service and security. The tech nuts-and-bolts on how this works? “Trueface has developed a suite of SDKs (software development kits) and a dockerized container solution that harness the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to transform your camera data into actionable intelligence,” Moore explained. “Computer vision will be used for automated account registration, recognizing VIPs to enhance service at brick and mortar locations, recognize known criminals in branches and alerting authorities, access control for vaults and even employee timekeeping.”

The whole VIP banking system does raise some flags about secret consumer scoreswhich allow companies to sell and profit from our data. As Edward Snowden said, there is no good reason for companies to hold onto our data—except when they see value and profit from it.

But according to Moore, “We provide the solutions to run on our client infrastructure so that no data ever leaves the client’s site/servers, ensuring performance but also data privacy and security.” 

Still, the city of San Francisco has banned facial recognition technology used by local law enforcement agencies. One slight problem is that facial recognition has trouble identifying people of color.

So, how is that being combatted with financial security?

“The city, which was not using face recognition to begin with, created a legal process for using face recognition, not an outright ban,” said Moore. “This is something that we are in favor of. The bias discussed around face recognition has to do with the underlying data the algorithms are trained with. If the data is disproportionate, then the results will also be skewed in one direction. The industry as a whole recognizes this and has been actively working towards mitigating data bias risk.”

Moore said the problem with facial recognition bias is shrinking and will cease to exist in the very near future.

“The impact of this hurdle plays more of a role when it comes to recognizing one person out of many; thousands or millions,” he stated. “Typically with account authentication, the database we scan is few or one-to-one making this a non-issue.”

The skeptics of facial recognition, Moore finds, are largely siloed in a surveillance use, not access control. Still, there are other possible failures and downsides with facial recognition and security. 

“The biggest concern is the ability to spoof or falsify identity when enrolling in an account remotely,” said Moore. “The solution to this problem is to ensure liveness and/or to pair biometrics with other forms of verification.”

Plus, with artificial intelligence as part of the facial recognition formula, there is the classic quote from Elon Musk that we need to fear AI more than nukes. Is the same fear justified for AI use in the banking sector?

“AI is still in its infancy, but what I believe Elon is referring to here is that once something is created, it’s hard to reverse progress if we don’t like the results,” Moore said. “The computing power required to reach this type of AI-driven world is still a decade or more away, so it is more important that we recognize the potential risks and re-adjust our path accordingly.”

Moore’s takeaway is face recognition is a tool that can be used to significantly improve security and efficiency. In the meantime, I’m going to be locking and unlocking my new iPhone with my face—until it’s time for my next banking expedition.

How AI and Facial Recognition Are Impacting the Future of Banking