Forget passwords and PINs, memorable dates and card verification numbers. Advances in voice biometric technology have made accessing bank accounts through client service centres as simple as small talk.

Schools that teach in English, also known as “international schools”, are becoming increasingly popular around the world. The International School Consultancy (ISC) Group, a research firm based in the UK, says there are currently over 7,000 such schools worldwide, and predicts that, over the next decade, this figure will rise to over 12,000.

This demand is being driven not by expatriates, as in the past, but by wealthy local parents, says Nicholas Brummitt, ISC’s chairman. He explains that a high-quality, English-speaking education is seen in many countries as the best way to improve your chances of getting into a top university. According to his firm’s research, 80 per cent of the demand for places at international schools now comes from local families.

“Today there is a massive demand for English-speaking education all over the world,” he says. “The future growth of international schools is now very much dependent on how many people can afford to pay international school fees.”

As demand for places outstrips supply, so fees will inevitably rise, and in some places there is already a very high level of competition among parents.

In Hong Kong, for example, there are 49 international schools, and many sell certificates, known as debentures, to parents who wish to guarantee a place for their child. These can cost up to HK$10m (around US$1.29m), and although they are usually repaid once the child graduates, this is not always the case – and any such repayment won’t usually include any interest. Yet even debenture places are running out at the top schools. At the Hong Kong International School, for example, where annual fees are up to HK$218,000 (around US$28,000), the debentures cost HK$2m (around US$258,000) and are already fully subscribed.

Similarly, in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, many of the top international schools are at full capacity with waiting lists. The number of Emirati nationals choosing to send their children to international schools has risen by 34 per cent over the past decade, says ISC, and the same trend is evident across the Middle East.

Financing your child’s international education

If you want to give your child an international education then, more than ever, it is important to start planning as soon as possible. There are numerous sources of information online that will help you to establish what fees to expect from international schools in your chosen location, so it is worth taking the time to find out what you can expect to pay – and to consider how this will be affected by inflation by the time your child is ready to enrol. For example, medium-priced boarding schools in the US and UK currently charge at least US$40,000 a year (for tuition and accommodation), and the most expensive will typically charge more than US$50,000.

Once you have established the total likely cost of your child’s education, you then need to consider how you will arrange for sufficient funds to be available at the right time and in the right currency, in order to pay the necessary fees. For example, if you intend to send your child to a school where fees are payable in US dollars or euros then you may wish to open a savings account in one of these currencies, to ensure any interest you accumulate on your savings is in the currency that you will ultimately need, and will therefore not be affected by exchange rates when it comes to be used. Our International Saver Account, for example, can be opened with as little as £1, €1 or US$1.

How Barclays can help you plan your child’s international education

If you are thinking about arranging an international education for your child, Barclays International Banking can help you in a number of ways. For example, we can help you to plan your savings and currency transactions so that you have sufficient funds in place – in the right currencies – to pay school fees as they arise. If you have a Relationship Manager1, we can also refer you to one of our expert advisers in investments and/or currency, to provide you with specific guidance tailored to your circumstances.

It is important to appreciate though that investments can fall in value as well as rise. You may get back less than you invest. Please note also that we cannot provide you with advice on investments when you are in the United Kingdom.

To find out more, please call us on +44 (0)20 7574 3212* or visit our website.

Keeping track of the multiple passwords, PINs, memorable dates and other authentication details needed to gain remote access to accounts is one of modern life’s less appealing challenges. Not only are individuals expected to remember details for an ever-growing number of services – accessed via telephone, web or mobile apps – but the issue is compounded by the guidance from service providers and security experts that customers should maintain different sets of sign-ins for different accounts.

In some instances, though, that memory test has already become a thing of the past. Taking advantage of recent innovations in voice biometric technology, a handful of pioneering organisations are now providing secure access to their call centres by verifying the customer’s identity simply from the sound of their voice.

During the normal conversation at the start of any call, advanced voice biometric technology, such as FreeSpeech from Nuance Communications, checks the client’s voice against their stored “voiceprints”, returning a verification result to the service executive and – assuming it’s positive – allowing them to provide information and complete transactions within seconds.

Unlike earlier voice-based authentication, this new generation of technology is:

  • Passive and transparent
    The required voice verification data is acquired during the opening conversation between caller and service centre executive, eliminating the need for any cumbersome authentication questions.

  • Text-independent and freeform
    The client doesn’t have to state any specific words or phrases, a facet that may have previously led to concerns that a voice recording of an individual’s discrete speech could be used to fraudulently access an account.

  • Content, language and accent-independent
    The capturing of the client’s voiceprint is unrelated to the content of the conversation; rather, the closeness of a match to the stored print is determined by subtly unique characteristics such as vocal tract length and shape, pitch and speaking rate.

  • Non-intrusive when enrolling the client
    The system initially records one or two conversations, extracts the voice features that are distinctive to the client, automatically creates a reference voiceprint and stores it in a secure directory.

  • More secure
    By its very nature, the speaker’s biometric data is unique, making the technique more secure that any password-based or “challenge question” process.

Such transparent authentication is already proving highly effective for a select group of customer-focused early adopters.

Speak easy banking

Barclays Wealth and Investment Management, for example, was recently recognised for being the first organisation in the world to deploy a passive voice security service with the primary aim of transforming the customer service experience. Using the system, its International Banking customers are automatically verified as they speak with a service centre executive. Not only does that cut the authentication time by about 20 seconds but critically the approach enables service teams and relationship managers to focus on clients’ needs rather than the mechanics of authentication.

“Like every financial service organisation, we have a duty to protect the integrity of our client’s accounts,” says Matt Smallman who leads the Client Experience Strategy and Change team for Barclays Wealth and Investment Management. “But when both our clients and colleagues told us that these processes where getting in the way of meeting their needs we knew something had to be done.“

He continues: “We believe that when a client chooses to phone us, as opposed to using one of our self-service channels, they have made a choice to speak to another human being, not a computer, and that there is generally an urgent, complex or emotional component to their request that can only really be addressed by getting our systems and processes out of the way and empowering our people to resolve the issue. Our voice security service is essential to delivering this vision as it enables our colleagues to really listen to our clients rather than be distracted by compulsory processes.”

The system has been in action at Barclays since mid-2012 and has certainly gained early endorsement from customers: in a recent poll, 93 per cent of client users scored Barclays at least 9 out of 10 for the speed, ease of use and security of voice authentication. “We have some great examples of occasions when, because clients were using the voice security service, our service executives were able to concentrate on the underlying client need, as opposed to focusing on the security questions that needed to be asked. And so they were able to propose solutions that were far more effective and better value for the client,” says Smallman.

Analysts’ choice

Such innovation has also won Barclays some plaudits from independent observers. In late 2012, the authentication system was selected by a panel of contact centre industry experts for its Analysts’ Choice Award for Customer Service Innovation.

As one of the judges, Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research, commented: “Barclays use of passive voice biometrics is unique in that it complements the live agent customer service experience and person-to-person interactions effortlessly. [It] lets its highly skilled representatives focus on handling the core purpose of each customer call.”

Such experts have historically highlighted a number of key factors that have undermined user acceptance of voice recognition, but which are now fading in importance. One is the ability to deal with background noise (such as a call from a crowded restaurant); another is when the caller’s voice is altered by something like a cold or a throat inflection. In such cases, when the recognition score may be lower than normal, the agent can simply revert to traditional verification layers.

One further concern is also evaporating. Many customers who may not have been exposed to the concept of computer-based voice recognition have being engaging with such technology much more frequently. Since the launch of the Siri voice interface on Apple iPhones in late 2011, and the extension of such technologies to other mobile devices, the use of voice recognition is now much more commonplace.

As a result of such developments, industry analysts like Miller estimate that the number of voiceprints stored worldwide will almost double over the next two years to reach 27 million in 2015. “Over time, banks, insurance companies, government agencies, telcos and retailers will find that strong, rapid authentication will enable them to serve their best, longest-standing customers in the most personal and efficient way,” says Miller. For some customers, that time has already come.