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Private eyes, indeed: Wells Fargo business customers benefit from eyeprint technology


Is the password dead? Perhaps not, if you’re a kid trying to get past the door of a secret clubhouse. But in the adult world of banking, the password is nearing the end of its useful life. Trouble is that high-tech hasn’t quite driven the last nail into the coffin, even at a time when hackers are growing more hostile. But the battle for ultra-secure banking is taking a big leap forward, as Wells Fargo continues to roll out a biometric checkpoint like no other: eyeprint ID.

No, that’s neither thumbprint nor facial recognition technology. While those characteristics are gaining acceptance in the financial services sphere, the eyeprint technology represents a major leap forward—one that earned it a Product and Service Innovation Award at BAI Beacon in October. The technology continues its rollout even as the BAI Global Innovation Awards prepares to accept nominations this February.

Eyeprint ID was introduced on Wells Fargo’s Commercial Electronics Office (CEO) internet portal, which dates to the pre-iPhone era.  Now, commercial customers on Wells’ CEO Mobile® iPhone app have the chance to use the security feature and offer feedback, with Android users soon to follow. The CEO Mobile® customer base includes corporate treasurers, CFOs, and other executives working with and moving large amounts of cash and assets.

Launched in December, the eyeprint rollout follows an extensive pilot program conducted in the summer, says Secil Watson, executive vice president, head of Wholesale Internet Solutions at Wells Fargo and based in San Francisco.

“We want to improve the product as we get feedback, and the interesting thing here is that we’re working with the [technology provider] to help them improve their product,” Watson says. “That means we can kick the tires on these solutions more, find flaws and fix them.”

That provider, EyeVerify, has leveraged the smartphone camera to capture the unique patterns in the veins of the eye. The feature can be used to open and secure mobile devices, as well as for logins: providing accuracy that’s just a hundredth of a point shy of 100 percent. That means criminals who might try to use a snapshot of someone’s eye have no hope of cracking a Wells commercial account.

So what propelled CEO Mobile® to garner top honors for the Product and Service Innovation category in the 2016 Awards? “The judges loved the application of the technology –we found the use-case compelling and could see differentiation in the biometric offering. But even more impressive was the demonstration of a traditional bank embracing open innovation by working with a start-up in an Accelerator and getting the product to market,” explained Ed Carrell, Innovation Circle judge and Managing Director, Group Innovation Head of Strategic Partnerships and Advanced Capabilities with Barclays PLC in London.

Ricardo Campos, another Innovation Circle judge and Senior Director of Electronic Banking at Poland-based Bank Millennium, adds, “The use of biometrics in the banking industry is still not widespread due to the significant amount of false positives and false negatives, which can make it less secure or less convenient depending on how the bank decides to decrease or increase its sensitivity.

Wells Fargo’s innovation was very special for us, as the way they combined a few biometric features produced much better results, and at the same time, they were able to keep a great user experience.”

The development also brings increased convenience to the working lives of corporate clients. Watson recalls an internal event at Wells where the question was posed to a CFO how banks could make his life easier. The CFO stood up, opened his jacket and revealed a plumber-sized keychain of authentication tokens used to gain secure online access to multiple banks. Other executives in the room stood up, dug into their pockets, and did the same.

That moment led Wells Fargo to develop a feature that paired voice and face authentication to run at the same time of login—a process known as bimodal verification. “On the commercial banking side, we have a higher bar for authentication because the amount of money they’re transacting is much higher,” Watson says. “We need added precaution to make sure they are who they say they are before they go on.”

Though eyeprint ID sets that bar higher still, Watson thinks of it more as an addition to the security arsenal, rather than a breakthrough that wipes the slate clean. “There is no single security solution in all cases, and eye verification is the same,” she notes. “So having alternatives available for customers is crucial.”

Meanwhile, the holy grail of banking security remains to be captured. As Watson puts it, “Our intention is to get rid of passwords in the future, so our question is, ‘What will it take to complete this voyage and eradicate them?’”

A decade ago, the answer might have included the phrase “That’s next to impossible.” But today, and thanks to eyeprint ID, technology and banking visionaries are beginning to see the light.

Lou Carlozo is the managing editor at BAI.

BAI will be accepting submissions for the Awards program now through April 28, 2017. The Awards are open to banks worldwide.  To learn more about the awards and submit nominations, please visit BAIGlobalInnovations.com.