Service Credit Union Turns To Finger Scanning

Credit unions can increase productivity by switching to a fingerprint scanning system.

Service Credit Union ($2.1B, Portsmouth, New Hampshire) isn’t waiting until fingerprint scanning becomes mainstream it’s using the technology right now and has welcomed a wealth of benefits. Service CU saves time and money while better protecting member’s financial information by eliminating username and passwords that employees use to access it.

Each day, more than 600 employees at the credit union use fingerprint authentication to secure and log on to more than 100 applications and websites. The transition to finger scanning started about a year ago. It came about when an IT staff member noticed that many employees kept as many as 20 usernames and passwords in their desk drawers, a process that was both time consuming and a security risk. To make life easier for branch personnel, the IT worker spent several months looking for products and services that would allow secure access more efficiently.

Service CU chose DigitalPersona to transfer its username and password authentication to a fingerprint scanning system. The program was easy to implement and integrate with all the credit union’s products and third party vendors, says Bill Arnold, chief information officer at Service CU. It was also deployable throughout both the institution’s U.S. and German branches.

It’s nice to be able to know that when a computer got unlocked, it was unlocked by the person that locked it and not by someone else, or that the person who logged in is the person who is supposed to be logging in, says Arnold. It makes auditability a much more realistic process than it was previously.

Since switching systems, the number of support calls from the staff to the IT department has decreased significantly and the frontline staff has more time to focus on member service as back office staff handles problems more efficiently. The credit union estimates that each call can cost the credit union between $50 and $150 in staff time, so the fingerprint scanner system is saving the cooperative financial institution money.

As the organization continues to grow, the number of help desk calls continues to go up, Arnold says. If we can defer calls without adding staff that’s a win for us.

While the system is not a direct member-facing initiative, employees are less stressed and thus able to serve members faster, Arnold says. The credit union was able to reorganize its entire staff and repurposed the IT department because of the new system’s benefits, which include the ability to support other forms of authentications like tokens or smartcards.

Some employees were nervous about the change. They wondered if fingerprints were a foolproof individual identifier. They worried about what could happen if the system was hacked and fingerprints were stored. But the system does not store fingerprint images. With biometric technology, it converts the fingerprint image data into Fingerprint Minutiae Data, which is a smaller mathematical representation of ones and zeros.

Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($1.6B, St. Paul, MN) also switched from username and password authentication to fingerprint scanners in 2007. Before then, password resets for the credit union’s more than 25 applications were generating about 800 Helpdesk calls per month, according to a DigitalPersona whitepaper, Costs, Threats, and Access: The Balancing Act for Financial Instituions.

Gartner, an information technology research and advisory firm, estimates that each call costs the financial institution about $17. At this cost, Affinity Plus was spending about $13,600 per month for helpdesk calls.

Affinity Plus gains 1,000 hours of member advisor time per year with the fingerprint scanning system and better assists members without login issues, according to the March 2012 whitepaper. The credit union saves at least $90,000 in IT costs from fewer helpdesk calls, annually. And with the savings from fewer helpdesk calls and compliance issues, return on investment was achieved in just a couple months.

Credit union employees now work with single sign on passwords. They sign on to their computer once and any future logins to open another account, employees scan their fingerprint and the password is filled in for them. This also helps with compliance issues regulations, because employees are able to create stronger passwords because they don’t have to remember so many of them.

May 29, 2014

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