The Barclays Africa board fended off a mild onslaught from shareholders on recent performance, executive remuneration and CEO Maria Ramoss time commitments.

London - The days of memorising long passwords and answering tedious security questions when calling your bank could soon be over.

Barclays is unveiling a voice recognition system that it claims will slash the time it takes to access your account from 90 seconds to just ten.

The “foolproof” software works by taking a recording of a customer’s voice when they sign up, which is then stored in a secure database.

When the customer next calls the bank, their unique speech patterns are compared against the initial recording. If the voice sample matches the original, Barclays call centre staff will get a notification verifying the caller’s identity.

According to experts at UK telecoms firm Kcom “even the best impressionists” such as Rory Bremner or Alistair McGowan are unable to fool modern speech recognition software. This is because the technology is so sophisticated it can pick up imperceptible quirks in how someone breathes or the speed at which they say certain words.

Barclays head of personal and corporate banking Ashok Vaswani said the technology was “foolproof”.

The bank believes the software is so reliable it can render obsolete the arduous string of passwords and security questions that leave many customers frustrated.

The existing security process requires customers to read out a 16-digit debit card number or a shorter telephone banking passcode.

Some customers are also asked for their account number and sort code, as well as their mother’s maiden name or their date of birth. Call centre staff sometimes also ask for details of a regular direct debit.

Barclays said this drawn-out process can last for a minute-and-a-half, and customers often have trouble remembering passwords.

Its voice recognition system, designed by Nuance Communications, is said to be able to reduce such security hurdles to just ten seconds, according to Barclays.

The bank already offers the service in its Barclays Wealth division – for more affluent customers with at least £500 000 to invest - resulting in a 60 percent fall in customer complaints. It will extend it to business customers by the end of this year, followed by its 12 million retail customers in 2015. “We know that having to answer security questions can be an inconvenience and an irritant,” a bank spokesman said. The bank said it was not aware of any of its rivals in the UK offering a similar option.

Customers will also be able to opt out of the voice recognition system and stick with the existing security process, the bank said. It also promised that no voice recordings will be taken without permission.

Banks have long struggled with the trade-off between convenience for customers and the need to prevent fraud and identity theft.

Customers complained in 2011 when HSBC introduced a “secure key” gadget, designed to prevent online banking fraud. Some complained about the “hassle” of setting up the gadget, similar to a calculator, while others said it stopped working after one or two times. - Daily Mail