Mobile based voice biometric identity: an emerging technology that could assist vulnerable populations

The Safaricom ‘Jitambulishe – My voice is my password’

On 11 December 2017, Safaricom PLC officially launched the Jitambulishe (identify yourself) voice biometric (VB) service for its subscriber base. The service allows subscribers to access personalised self-service offerings by authenticating themselves via voice biometric recognition.

I decided to test drive the service by activating my voice biometric to explore the user experience. For the value it offers (secure authentication of account ownership, inclusion of visually impaired users), the registration process was simple. The use of a more natural human interface i.e. listening and speaking, still takes a moment to acclimatise to, as I was essentially speaking back to a machine. Below is the journey a customer would go through to activate Jitambulishe.

Registration flow

Customers calls 456(IVR Self-service) → Selects language → Selects ‘Enroll to Jitambulishe’ → Prompted to enter ID Number → Prompted to repeat the phrase “At Safaricom my voice is my password” three times → Prompted to enter M-Pesa PIN (initial setup) → Platform thanks user and presents other service options.

Usage flow for start-key* request

Customers calls 456(IVR Self-service) → Selects language → M-Pesa Services → Selects M-Pesa PIN (or service option) → Prompted to say the phrase “At Safaricom my voice is my password” → System responds** “Thank you” (verification happens) → A new M-Pesa start-key* is sent → Platform offers other service options.

*Start-key is a unique 4 digit number required to activate M-Pesa, and is required when resetting an M-Pesa PIN if it is forgotten.
**When the voice is not verified, it responds with “I’m sorry I am not able to verify you at this moment. You are routed to an agent for assistance.”

Voice biometrics provide valuable business opportunities for mobile operators. As mobile penetration increases globally, the demand for client support grows exponentially, putting a lot of pressure on mobile operators to run and manage large call centres. With significantly high volumes of client support calls, any time saved is cost savings.

Voice biometrics enable:

  1. More comprehensive self-service options: mobile subscribers who remotely authenticate via voice can be offered more comprehensive self-service options such as SIM swap, PUK request, blocking or unblocking a line, or access to mobile money wallet pin and balances.
  2. Time savings: Ordinarily, access to sensitive transactions required call centre agents to challenge the caller’s authenticity by asking a range of questions to verify ownership of the mobile account. This meant spending precious time authenticating the caller, before offering the required service. Voice biometric verification saves time as the customer is handed over to a call centre agent already verified, and the assistance can be granted immediately, thus saving time.
  3. Cost savings: the effect of reduced time on support calls is that agents can handle more calls per day, thus reducing the overall cost of operating call centres.
  4. Verification as a service (VAAS): As mentioned on my previous blog on ‘Digital Identity opportunity in mobile enabled social benefits programs’, the ability to verify voice presents an opportunity for mobile operators to provide verification services to social benefit programs. For beneficiaries with voice biometrics enabled on their mobile line, social benefit programs can leverage the mobile operators verification as a service, to lower cost and effort required to verify that benefits have indeed reached the beneficiary. Verification can be done prior to sending cash or other benefits to the mobile line.
  5. Access to visually impaired customers: When combined with interactive voice response (IVR), VB provides visually impaired customers the ability to authenticate without having to type a PIN or password. After conducting an assessment on mobile usage by populations with various disabilities, Safaricom identified visually impaired (VI) as a customer segment that would benefit from voice services to the convenience of mobile money services.  Voice driven interaction (IVR) and voice recognition (voice biometric) ultimately enabled visually impaired customers to listen to voice prompts to select service options, and authenticate via their voice, to independently access M-Pesa services including a voice readout of their M-Pesa balance.

The GSMA Digital Identity programme sees this voice biometric capability by MNOs as holding great promise for improved customer experience overall and especially for vulnerable populations. There is potential to offer ‘verification as a service’ (VAAS) as a growing number of social benefit programs increasingly rely on the mobile number to identify and confer social benefits to vulnerable citizens. Voice authentication of the mobile owner remotely allows social programs to automate the process of verifying that the benefit recipient is indeed the intended beneficiary. This in turn enables such programs to report to government and donors on large scale benefit distribution in near real-time.

Read more of our blogs 
This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
Donor logos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.