National facial ID service launches, DBS to use it for secure mobile sign-ups

DBS Bank is the first private-sector entity to pilot SingPass Face Verification, which is integrated into its digibank app. PHOTO: DBS

SINGAPORE - Forgot the PIN to your DBS bank account? No problem.

From Wednesday (July 29), bank account holders can scan their faces on their phones to apply for an online banking account with the launch of a national facial identification service.

Dubbed SingPass Face Verification, the captured facial image will be matched against the national biometric database.

This database contains the facial images and identities of four million local residents aged 15 years and above, captured through applications for passports and NRICs; its use has so far been limited to official purposes, including verification at border checkpoints and in some government buildings to limit access rights.

With SingPass Face Verification, private-sector organisations can now tap the nation's digital identity infrastructure to securely verify online transactions without needing to build their own systems.

DBS Bank is the first private-sector entity to pilot the service, which is integrated into its digibank app.

For a start, its customers can choose to scan their faces instead of entering their ATM, credit or debit card number and a corresponding PIN to sign up for an online banking account.

Users need to download the latest version of the digibank app, rolled out on Wednesday, to access the new feature.

In the coming months, users may also be able to scan their faces remotely to verify who they are without having to upload pictures of their pink NRIC or show up in person to, say, open a bank account.

Said Mr Jeremy Soo, head of Consumer Banking Group (Singapore) at DBS: "Together with GovTech, we aim to support those who are journeying into digital banking for the first time and to help foster resilient digital habits that will last for years to come."

The Straits Times first reported on the government-backed facial identification service involving greater use of the national biometric database in November 2018.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative, announced the service in Parliament in February this year.

People here are already scanning their faces or fingerprints on their phones to access e-government services and the e-services of insurer NTUC Income and the Singapore National Employers Federation using the SingPass Mobile app.

Launched in 2018, the app has 1.6 million users to date.

SingPass Face Verification takes the mobile service forward by matching the captured facial image against the Government's biometric database. This step allows for greater ease of verifying high-risk online transactions, including those involving cashier's orders of over $10,000, said experts.

Said Mr Kok Ping Soon, chief executive of GovTech, which created the SingPass authentication system: "We look forward to building more impactful services with the financial sector and beyond to bring greater convenience to our citizens."

SingPass Face Verification's launch, with DBS as its first use case, follows a successful trial earlier this month with over 100 seniors and students from ITE College West.

Some users found facial verification to be more convenient as they do not need to remember their PIN or whip out their ATM, credit or debit card to complete the registration process.

Previously, those who do not have a card or remember their PIN have had to wait up to five working days to receive their items by post to activate their digital banking accounts.

Said retiree Nancy Yeo, 66: "Registering for an online banking account (by facial scanning) was just like taking a selfie photo with my grandchild on my really isn't as complicated as I had thought."

How SingPass Face Verification works on the DBS digibank app:

- Launch the latest version of the DBS digibank app

- Select the identity type: NRIC, Malaysian IC or passport

- Enter the identity number

- Select SingPass Face Verification to verify the user

- Take the selfie

- The captured image will be matched instantly against the latest records in the Government's biometric database

- Upon successful matching, DBS will send an one-time password (OTP) to the user's registered mobile number via SMS

- Enter the OTP and create a user ID to register an online account to access mobile banking services

- The facial data will not be retained by the bank

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