Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, the emirate’s biggest Sharia-compliant lender, has partnered with the UAE’s Ministry of Interior to allow customers to open accounts remotely and digitally through facial recognition.
The move comes as lenders globally hasten their digital transformation initiatives after disruptions caused by Covid-19 movement restrictions.
This initiative makes ADIB the first lender in the UAE to use facial recognition for opening an account, senior bank executives said at an event in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
“We have on-boarded about 97,000 customers in the past 12 months and 50 per cent of those come in through our digital offering each month. This is even before we had the biometric database offering with the [Ministry of Interior],” Philip King, global head of retail at ADIB, told The National in an interview.
“Customers have been interacting with us digitally in a far greater way than they did pre-Covid-19. To have this capability for customers to act in a secure and convenient way, by using a government database to have their identity biometrically verified, will boost our customer acquisition and make them feel more secure in interacting with us.”
The UAE approved employing facial recognition technology in February to further develop the services provided by private and government sectors, with the aim of easing procedures.
Lenders globally are looking at ways to use digital identity technology to sign on new customers. Banks are increasingly using eye scans, fingerprint, voice, facial and vein-pattern recognition tools to authenticate a person and give them access to their systems.
The UK’s NatWest was the first bank to allow customers to apply for accounts using a selfie and a physical ID with artificial intelligence-based verification.
French bank Societe Generale also allows customers to open accounts online and uses facial recognition and a selfie to verify customer identities. HSBC allows customers to access their accounts through voice recognition.
A survey commissioned by Visa in 2017 found that more than 80 per cent of respondents were comfortable using a fingerprint or face recognition as an identity token for their banking services.
More than half of those surveyed said they would consider leaving a bank or card network that does not offer biometric authentication services.
The main benefits of using biometric authentication for payments are that it eliminates the need to remember several passwords or PINs, in addition to creating a perception that it is more secure, the survey revealed.
However, the top concerns include the potential breach of sensitive information that cannot be changed if compromised, a fear that biometrics will not work as intended and the cost of owning a device that allows for biometric authentication and privacy, the Visa survey found.
“The use of facial recognition system is a key step for ADIB towards the implementation of emerging technology based on AI,” said Sameh Awadallah, head of ADIB’s branch network.
To open an account, UAE residents can download the ADIB mobile app and follow the instructions by taking a picture, scanning their passport and tapping their Emirates ID card on the device for the app to read its data using near-field communication.
The tool will scan the user’s face, which will be matched against the ministry’s facial recognition system instantly. Upon successful matching, ADIB will send a test message to the user’s registered mobile number for verification, after which the user may create his or her preferred credentials, the lender said.
“This is in line with the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to enhance the efficiency of services, as well as support UAE banks in strengthening the security and safety of their digital services against threats of cybercrime,” said Ahmed Al Shamsi, head of AI systems and the services development team at the General Directorate of Security Support in the UAE Ministry of Interior.
ADIB recorded a 30 per cent increase in digitally active customers in the first half of 2021. Currently, the bank has about 700,000 digitally active customers, representing 70 per cent of its customer base, Mr King said.
“In the future, we have plans to roll out biometrics for transactional authorisation. This will be developed across all channels, products and customer interactions,” he said.
The link to the Ministry of Interior database will help to address any concerns for customers who wish to open an account digitally, he said, citing how the UAE government deploys this biometric database at airports.
Mr King said physical branches are still at the core of ADIB’s business activity.
“Branches will have a part in the new digital eco-system. A hybrid approach with digital and personal touch is optimal,” he said.
Separately, ADIB partnered with Verloop.io, an AI-powered customer service automation company, to use a natural-language processing chatbot to handle customer queries.
Unveiled in the fourth quarter of 2020, ADIB’s Chatbanking on WhatsApp allows customers to check their balance, transfer funds, pay bills and book branch appointments through simple commands.
There are 150,000 ADIB customers with a verified chatbot account, with more than 350,000 queries put through to the chatbot in the second quarter of 2021, of which 85 per cent were resolved without human interaction, according to the lender. This enabled the ADIB call centre to reduce call volume by 20 per cent, the bank said.