Oculus Rift, AI, biometrics and more: 12 technologies that will change banking and the way we save

Matthew Finnegan
Matthew Finnegan

Matthew Finnegan

Matthew Finnegan joined IDG UK in January 2013, having spent two years writing for tech news titles including TechEye and ChannelBiz.

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Updated 19 February 2016: According to the BBC HSBC is launching voice and touch recognition security services in the UK. This will be available for up to 15 million HSBC banking customers.

There has been a wave of innovation in the financial sector in recent years as banks realise to the possibilities of digital technologies such as mobile, wearables, analytics and telepresence. And with lenders under pressure to meet fast-changing demands from customers, it is likely to pace of change will continue.

Here are some of the technologies being trialled that could soon be found at a bank near you...

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© iStock Dansin

1. Biometrics

Biometrics systems could spell the end for the password, and, for payments, the end of the PIN code. Mastercard, for example, is prepping the launch of a new contactless card with an embedded fingerprint sensor, creating a more secure transaction method.

After recent cyber attacks, HSBC is stepping up its security procedures with voice and touch recognition security services in the UK. According to reports, this will alleviate the need for passwords and memorable questions for up to 15 million banking customers.

Barclays also upped security in 2014 – offering fingervein scanning for authentication of large transactions. 

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Image: iStock/hocusfocus

2. In-car apps

Spain’s innovative CaixaBank has created the first mobile banking app that can be accessed while driving, using voice control functionality. Using Ford’s SYNC with AppLink system, drivers can check their account balance and transfer funds, as well as locating nearby branches and ATMs.

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© iStock Yuri_Arcurs

3. Smartwatches

Interest in wearable devices is growing in all sectors, and banking is no different. Although many are awaiting the launch of the Apple Watch to see how demand picks up, some – such as the UK’s largest building society, Nationwide - have already developed apps to let customers manage accounts with a tap of their wrist.

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Image: iStock/gpointstudios

4. Facial recognition

There are many types of authentication for banks and payment firms to consider though, and Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba believes that payments could be made with a smile. 

Its facial recognition system - dubbed 'Smile to Pay' - was unveiled by founder Jack Ma at German tech conference CeBit earlier this year, and may be available as part of its Alipay platform in future.

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© iStock: Ferrantraite

5. Google Glass

Should Google ever succeed in convincing the masses to adorn their faces with its smart glasses, banks are ready to jump on the trend. In fact, Spain’s Caixa Bank has already developed a Google Glass app.

It works by superimposing directions to the nearest branch onto the Glass screen, providing information such distance and phone number of the nearest branch, all of which is accessed through the voice recognition system.

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Image: Flickr/LinuxTag

6. Robotics

In a more extreme example of branch service automation, customers at certain branches of Japan’s Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ are set to be greeted by 58 centimetre-tall robots.

Named NAO, the humanoid robot, created by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, can answer basic customer service questions in 19 languages, as well as analysing customers’ facial expressions and behaviour.

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Image: Westpac

7. Augmented reality

It may be the stuff of near-future sci-fi film Minority report, but Australian Bank Westpac last year announced the release of an augmented reality app for mobile devices. The 3D imaging software provides visualisations of balances and transaction history, as well as overlaying details over nearby Westpac branches.

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Image: Barclays

8. Beacon technology

iBeacon and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology offers banks the ability to personalise services for customers in branches. Barclays is one of the first to trial this, using the indoor position system improve accessibility for customers with disabilities – using an app notify staff of requirements upon arrival – and there is plenty of potential for further use.

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Image: Wikipedia

9. Oculus Rift

Video banking is only just gaining ground among the likes of Barclays, but Wells Fargo’s aims are even more ambitious. The US bank has been testing the use of Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at its Digital Labs in San Francisco, offering customers the ability to ‘virtually’ enter a branch and speak to a teller face to face. 

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©iStock: TimArbaev

10. Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin may be seen as more of a threat to centralised banking systems than an opportunity, but, despite its notorious volatility and problems with major exchanges, the concept has remained.

In 2014, German ‘Web 2.0’ lender Fidor announced plans to launch the first specialised bank for cryptocurrencies along with currency exchange Kraken, offering a potential glimpse of more mainstream usage.

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© iStock: CarlosCastella

11. Artificial intelligence

Big data analytics means that banks are able to rely on artificial intelligence more than ever before. In 2014, Swiss banking giant UBS entered into a commercial agreement with software vendor Sqreem, which crunches huge volumes of information about a client’s behaviour to offer them detailed, personalised information.

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©iStock: PhotoInc

12. Digital cheques

Even some of the more traditional banking methods are set to get a modern update. Smartphone cheque imaging - already widely used in the US - is set to hit Britain with Barclays and Lloyds trialling the tech, allowing payment information to be desposited digitally using a mobile device.

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