RETAIL BANKING | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Transact with BOCHK ATMs using finger authentication

Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited’s finger vein authentication offers an answer to the rising security threats looming over Asian retail banking.

When Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited (BOCHK) first introduced finger vein authentication to some of the front desks of its branches in late 2016 and, eventually, to two automated teller machines (ATM) in July 2017, the goal was to provide its growing customers more secure ways to access their accounts and perform their banking transactions. The innovative offering—where customers use their unique finger vein patterns via an infrared scanner to authenticate their credentials and transactions was gradually extended to all BOCHK’s branches and around 160 of its ATMs in  December 2017, making the city’s second largest commercial bank in terms of assets and customer deposits the first financial institution to use the technology in Hong Kong.

“Finger vein authentication service is a fintech application which benefits both staff and customers,” said Michael Wang, deputy general manager of E-Finance Centre at BOCHK. “It is definitely an innovative banking service, increasing staff satisfaction and reducing their workload as it transfers the identity verification work from staff to system to avoid fraud. It can also reduce transaction time for each customer and eliminate the reset password service for forgetful customers so that staff can focus more time on providing high quality service.”

Demand for better, more modern, and more sophisticated security measures and protocols for the banking industry have been increasing the past few years given the rising incidents and occurrence of fraud, money laundering, and illicit financing in the Asia-Pacific  region. This heightened concern for better banking security is what makes BOCHK’s innovative technology all the more significant and timely, not only for its customers but also for its overall strategy and operations moving forward. 

BOCHK’s efforts to introduce innovative technologies like the finger vein authentication system come after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) expressed support and commitment to promote point-of-sales fingerprint identification and other financial technology in the city’s banking industry in October 2017.

The finger vein authentication system adds to BOCHK’s growing lineup and portfolio of innovative technologies and services for its patrons and increasing customers, under its Smart Branch program. Some of the new e-services and facilities BOCHK offers, apart from finger vein authentication, include “RoBoc” or the Smart Robot which interacts with clients in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English to guide them and answer queries; counter appointment service, where customers can get an e-ticket instantly via the bank’s mobile application; BOCHK iService, which offers a round-the-clock video banking service that enables customers to conduct real-time banking transactions; and e-zone, which informs customers of the latest service offerings of BOCHK.

How it works
Whilst Wang pointed out that the finger authentication method is being rolled out in all BOCHK’s branches and ATM networks, the move is not to replace the more traditional forms of banking security measures including using a six-digit pin. The new innovation is introduced to provide their customers an added security option for convenience and peace of mind.

But how does finger vein authentication work and how can the bank’s customers avail the service? Wang said the process is as easy as going to any BOCHK branch for a one-off “finger vein authentication” registration, where the customer’s finger vein data is recorded which  will then be encrypted before saving into the bank’s central database for maximum protection of personal information. After the process is complete, a customer can then proceed to around 160 ATMs of the bank or any BOCHK  branch and finish their banking transactions using just the tip of their fingers.

“With ATM transactions, for example, when customers put their finger on the finger vein reader, the infrared LED will emit dispersed light through the finger to extract vein pattern to the CMOS sensor,” Wang explained. “The system will match customers’ vein pattern with database record to verify their identity. Once the verification process is completed, customers can then conduct designated transactions.”

The technology serves as a secure identity verification method as each individual has a unique and non-repetitive vein pattern that does not change after adulthood. It also incorporates near-infrared LED, making banking transactions for customers more convenient than signature verification.

Finger vein advantages
Wang noted that apart from saving precious transaction time for customers, especially for those who easily forget their passwords, pins, and signatures, the finger vein authentication system also offers higher security and convenience to customers particularly the elderly whose signatures tend to change over time. It avoids forgery as well. 

“The system is much harder to cheat because it can only  authenticate the finger of a living person, eliminating the risk that fraudsters will use substitutes or copies to break into a bank account,” he noted. “In addition, finger vein can eliminate the possibility of counterfeit signature to preventing fraud and financial crime.”

Incorporating innovative technology is nothing new in the banking and financial industry, especially in Hong Kong and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Financial institutions both in the territory and elsewhere have also been employing technology, including the common fingerprint scanning systems, iris scans, voice activated banking, and even artificial intelligence. 

But for Wang, at least for now, finger vein scanning reigns supreme in the tested and proven securityrelated technologies in the banking industry. He emphasised that finger veins cannot be duplicated, pushing the success rate much higher. It is also tough to forge, as the vein patterns are not easily altered by sweat, stains, or peeling of skin on fingers—something that may affect the traditional fingerprint method.

Currently, the bank is planning to extend the feature to all of its over 400 ATMs in Hong Kong to serve all of its customers. Given the bank’s commitment to technological innovation for customer service and the government’s strong support, particularly the HKMA, for these institutions, the banking industry in the city looks  set for a more modern and convenient future.

“BOCHK works keenly with innovative institutions and the HKMA to explore new fintech which can be applied to the banking industry,” Wang said. “We always aim to develop new services and products to enhance customer experience and improve staff satisfaction. Exploring the use of biometric authentication in different channels meets our objectives in the aspect of fintech application.” 

“BOCHK places great attention on innovations of technologies. The bank invested heavily in the procurement of finger vein authentication equipment, ensuring that security measures of our services are maximised to the highest level in the industry,” Wang concluded,  adding that BOCHK will continue to apply new biometrics technology, including voice recognition technology in their call centre services. “In the future, the bank will keep fostering the growth of fintech development in mobile banking, applying digitalisation on both online and offline channels.”

Currently, applicable transactions for finger vein authentication systems at BOCHK branches include cash withdrawal, transfer, currency exchange, bills payment, and password resets. Meanwhile, at the bank’s ATM outlets, the technology allows customers to do all transactions that they can do at branches plus account balance inquiry; bank statement or cheque book application, overseas ATM daily withdrawal limit and activation period setting; MPF balance inquiry; and BOC Express Cash loan top up.

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