Interview: USAA’s Gary McAlum on biometric banking
02 June 2015 15:16 GMT

While a number of US financial service providers have unveiled biometric mobile banking apps this year, USAA has differentiated itself in the market by offering a multimodal solution which includes facial and voice recognition.

USAA has also been the only financial service provider to so far reveal its adoption figures. Released in mid-May, these have an impressive 400,000 since the solution, developed by Daon, was rolled out in January.

Significantly, 15% of those in the older half of adoptees were also seniors over 65, a figure which raises questions for critics who say the older generation neither trust nor accept biometric authentication.   

Planet Biometrics talked to USAA's Gary McAlum, CSO and SVP of Enterprise Security, about the challenges and achievements of the deployment.

What particular challenges at USAA did you have to overcome to develop this app?

USAA has worked on biometrics for approximately two years and the product took on several variations. Receiving feedback from our members was critical to building the best solution for our members. For example, members shared early on that they felt the enrolment process took too long, especially since the member was required to setup both face and voice. If they didn’t complete the process, they would have to start from the beginning. We listened and adjusted the process, and now members have the ability to enroll in the three options individually. It’s all about choice and convenience. 

What’s interesting is the feedback we continue to receive.  For example, some members want to be able to layer multiple biometric options.  That’s something we didn’t originally consider.   By the way, all our biometric options are coupled with device recognition, providing an extra layer of security.

Why do you think your adoption rate been high with the new biometric app?

USAA makes every decision with our members in mind. Our members have asked for secure options that are simple and flexible, providing them the ability to manage their finances wherever they are.

Biometrics is where security and simplicity meet in the middle, providing our members options that are easy and fast to use.

Also, we received member feedback throughout our testing efforts and made several changes based on their insight. Their feedback had a direct impact on the final product, including the ability to enroll in only one of the three biometric options.

What attracted you towards Daon's IdentityX solution over others?

Daon provides USAA with the foundation needed to develop innovative solutions for our members that are simple and secure. With their platform, we are able to better serve our members and be ready to accommodate new options in the future.

Why has the USAA app succeeded where others have failed in terms of bridging the generational gap?

This is somewhat new space for financial institutions and we are still learning as well. We thought biometrics was going to be heavily used by the younger generations, predominately Millennials. We believe that a combination of cybercrime in today’s environment, growing technology and the fact that members trust USAA to make decisions that best protect them, have resulted in an interest of biometrics across all generation. Fifty percent of members enrolled in biometrics are 35 and older.

What led USAA to become an innovator in terms of supporting biometric authentication?

We are committed to develop innovative solutions that will bring secure and simple solutions for our member’s financial needs.  We believe the legacy forms of authentication (e.g., userid and password) are becoming increasingly obsolete in today’s cyber threat environment.  USAA has a dedicated innovative team that is laser-focused on creative ideas that will make a difference in our member’s lives include how to improve security while not creating more member friction. As we gain confirmation from our members, ideas are moved into development and carried through to execution. This is exactly how biometrics was created.