I switched to First Direct in 1998. They were the first to introduce 24/7 telephone banking and I liked the idea of being able to maintain my account from anywhere and at any time. The agents are always friendly and eager to help when you call, and so you can say that my 20-year relationship with First Direct has been a pleasant one.
In 2016, I was asked if I wanted to opt in to the new Voice ID which aimed to make the authenticating process easier and safer. Previously, when customers called they would go through a two-stage security check. First, the customer would be asked two security questions (such as your date and place of birth, your mum’s maiden name and memorable address). Second, they would ask you to state two letters from your password which they would randomly choose (e.g., the third and last letters). If you answer all the questions correctly, you were identified as a genuine customer.
The Voice ID does away with the second stage. It analyses the customer’s voice “in seconds”, checking behavioural and physical vocal traits, from the pronunciation to the tone and pattern of the customer’s voice. The thinking is that anyone can still someone’s password, making Voice ID safer because it is sensitive and sophisticated enough to detect if someone is impersonating you – even if you have a cold or sore throat. The First Direct website states: “Unlike a password, your digital voice ‘print’ can’t be written down or guessed by others. This is bad news for fraudsters, but great news for you because it gives you even greater confidence that nobody else can access your banking details.”
Being the technology fan that I am, I opted in to Voice ID when it was offered to me. Initially it worked well, and indeed the authenticating process was quicker because I did not have to worry about providing letters from my password. However, on several occasions in the past few months, I had to call First Direct in areas with bad mobile signals. When this happened, the First Direct agent would get me to talk for longer as the Voice ID needs more sample of my voice to identify me as a genuine customer. It was annoying, especially when you know it would have been quicker if they would have just asked me for my password as in the old days. But I patiently put up with, knowing that ultimately they were protecting my account from fraud.
Today, my patience run out. I called First Direct and asked a very simple question about my account but the Voice ID could not identify me as a genuine customer. The agent said that she had to terminate the conversation “to get the information that I wanted” and promised to call me back. This was even after I had answered several security questions successfully. When no call came, I rang First Direct again, this time making sure that my mobile phone signal was getting a full bar. But still the second agent I spoke to said that I had a bad signal and that the Voice ID was not recognising me.
I was angry. I was effectively being locked out of my own bank account. With my voice steadily rising, I told the agent that I was not impressed. Why did not the first agent call me back? (The second agent claimed she did.) Why did the first agent have to terminate the call when I had answered all her security questions? (The second agent said that it was part of the security process.)
I am not sure if it was my raised voice that did it but eventually the agent was satisfied that I was genuine. She apologised for the inconvenience and promised to log a complaint about the way the first agent handled the call. Also, she credited my account with £10 as compensation.
I thanked the second agent for her help but even when pacified, I decided that I did not want Voice ID any more – it was more of a hassle than a help. I asked to be put back to the old password system.
A quick search on the internet has revealed that I am not the only one to have bad experience with Voice ID. The Money Saving Expert website says that the “pioneering voice recognition security system introduced by First Direct is failing to recognise some account-holders, with a number of customers left furious after being wrongly locked out of their accounts.”
First Direct is back in my good books, but it’s goodbye Voice ID and hello again passwords for me.