BANKING TECHNOLOGY | Staff Reporter, Singapore

OCBC Bank changes the face of priority banking

Rolling out a facial recognition system in its Premier Banking business, the bank aims to personalise and elevate customer banking experience.

In December 2017, OCBC Bank achieved a milestone and made a mark on the whole Singapore banking industry when it became the first bank in the city-state to employ a facial recognition system to improve the overall banking experience of its customers. With the implementation and successful trial of this newest innovation, OCBC Bank is definitely changing the “face” of how banking is done in Singapore.

At the turn of the decade, personal technologies like mobile phones were integrated with sophisticated security and identification innovations such as fingerprint scanners and, recently, facial recognition systems which are a high-tech form of biometrics using  a person’s unique facial features. This growing technological trend is something that OCBC Bank had wanted to capture and leverage not just to be ahead of the competitive digital curve, but also to be able to provide a more intuitive, holistic, and elevated banking experience for its loyal and premium customers.

Pranav Seth, head of e-business, business transformation, and fintech and innovation group at OCBC Bank, explained that at the heart of the initiative is the insistence and determination to provide its customers the best service and experience that they deserve. “OCBC is committed to service quality, and implementing facial recognition to elevate the customer experience is one of the many steps that we are doing in the digital economy. As a progressive organisation, we continuously look for innovative technologies to fit our business proposition.” Seth said. “OCBC has been a pioneer in implementing biometrics to create easy and seamless access to banking services for its customers across all channels. We introduced biometrics to access our mobile banking apps—OCBC OneTouch, OCBC OneLook—and have also introduced voice biometrics at our Contact Centre.”

Elevating customer experience Seth continued, “The major difference in this implementation at the Holland Village branch is that it is specifically for face-to-face interactions, and specifically targeted at premier customers.” For the bank, the thinking behind the implementation of the facial recognition system is simple: provide OCBC Bank’s premier customers with the most personalised and intuitive banking experience they can have—and that should start the moment they set foot in the bank.

“The facial recognition system can identify OCBC Premier Banking customers in real-time as they approach the lounge within the branch, with no need for them to stop and look at the camera,” explained Seth. “This offers an unobtrusive way for the bank to identify them.”

Previously, customers had to produce their identification document with every visit to the OCBC Bank Premier Centre for verification. This posed as an opportunity that OCBC Bank realised can be improved by letting their customers feel differentiated and recognised through a sophisticated piece of technology like the facial recognition system. The bank also records the customers’ visit  details, which will help understand their behaviour patterns and improve the services offered.

NEC, OCBC Bank’s technology solutions partner noted in its press release after the successful roll out of the system, that the system also allows greater data gathering and processing for OCBC Bank. They  were able to record the purpose of a customer’s visit, gather feedback to help improve services, and understand customer behaviour  patterns, such as the frequency of their visits. 

Seth said that since the launch of the system at the end of 2017, their customers are starting to embrace the technology. “It has been very well received by our customers. The uptake has been growing steadily and customers have been impressed by the personalised hospitality they receive, enabled by fast and accurate  information,” he added.

Leveraging technology
The facial recognition system was not just a testament to OCBC’s  progressive nature and innovative drive, but also a sign of willingness from the financial institution to embrace and leverage technology. NEC said that facial recognition is already being implemented in a wide range of industries and given the technology’s widespread usage and acceptance in security systems, it will continue to provide a positive change in sectors like banking.

Seth said that the conceptualisation process to roll out the technology wasn’t exactly straightforward since the technology needed to blend and integrate well with human interaction—which necessitated some training on the part of the bank’s staff. “We conducted a proof-of-concept in our offices with staff to understand  the intricacies of facial recognition technology in early 2017 and did a market study on how it was applied in other use cases. We then conceptualised and implemented the solution to enable our staff to greet and offer our Premier customers positive service delight.”

OCBC Bank utilises NeoFace, NEC’s artificial intelligence (AI) engine for face recognition. According to NEC, NeoFace is currently recognised as the fastest and most accurate facial recognition algorithm in the world by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States, leading in both accuracy and speed.

Some of the applications that NEC’s NeoFace will be able to provide—which OCBC Bank can take advantage of across its operations—include access control and attendance tracking for staff and visitors; workstation or console login for more secured access; customer authentications for transactions as a second factor on different channels of financial institutions; seamless online transaction experience for  payment authentication; security purposes (both national and commercial) including monitoring individuals on watch lists or tracking people who loiter on various premises; fraud prevention; and tailored advertising signage and  marketing material using facial recognition to understand the age and gender of patrons. NEC’s Neoface engine is currently implemented in over 40 countries worldwide by a wide range of public and private organisations. 

A step forward
Given the overall acceptance and positive feedback that OCBC Bank received during the trial phase of its facial recognition system, Seth believes that things are looking bright for the system to be a fullpledged innovation in the bank. He said, “We are currently piloting this facial recognition technology and service at our Holland Village branch, and if successful, we will explore extending this to other branches and leveraging the technology for other services.”

However, Seth admitted that some challenges remain in the full implementation of the facial recognition system in the bank’s day-to-day operations. Some of these challenges include the installation of the system itself as well as the logistics, given that this is a fairly new technology in the banking industry. 

“The main advantage of facial recognition being contactless and frictionless was that it was the most intuitive form of biometrics and it was important to keep it that way for customers,” he explained. “In order to ensure proper camera capture in a typical visit to the branch and seamless experience  for our customers, we had to make changes to some design elements of the branch to house the cameras in secure, yet intuitive positions and ensure lighting was optimal.

"On another hand, some may still ask if there could be any security and privacy issues with the system that the customers should be wary of, given that this involves their biometrics. Seth said that customers’ data is safe and secure since the data  is captured and stored in accordance to OCBC Bank’s security policies, including system encryption, physical access controls, and system  hardening, amongst other measures. “We treat customers’ data with the strictest confidentiality and we do not share data with any third parties,” Seth reassured. 

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