RETAIL BANKING | Staff Reporter, Philippines

Everything you need to know about UnionBank's selfie banking technology

Find out how selfie banking invigorated UnionBank’s EON Prepaid Account.

When UnionBank thought of a strategy to double the sign-ups for its EON Prepaid Account debit card in the Philippines — notably the social media capital of the world — it leveraged the irresistible urge of people to take self-portraits or better known as selfies.

UnionBank went to work, harnessing the latest in biometrics technology, to come up with a selfie banking feature that enables clients take pictures of themselves with their smartphones to log in securely to their online accounts. The bank then re-launched the EON Prepaid Account, an electronic money account, with this cool feature at the forefront along with other snazzy upgrades.

The gambit has paid off for the bank, the seventh biggest in the country: Selfie banking has been doubling client sign-ups for UnionBank’s EON Prepaid Account Visa debit card since the re-launch in March. Not only has the feature generated buzz among debit card users, but it has also thrilled existing users by making account management more convenient and adding another security layer. Biometric facial authentication, the security technology on which selfie banking runs, has been praised by security experts to provide stronger protection in age of rising cyberattacks.

“With selfie banking, customers can log in to their account by doing what they’ve always loved to do — posing in front of a smartphone and taking a selfie,” says Paolo Eugenio J. Baltao, senior vice president, EON banking group at Union Bank of the Philippines. “By adding face recognition, EON attains the gold standard in security — something you know, something you have, and something you are — a multi-factor authentication process to protect customers from the escalating threats to cybersecurity.”

The Ericsson Mobility Report says there were 40 million smartphone users in the Philippines in 2016, and this will more than double to 90 million by 2021, as smartphones become more affordable and mobile telecommunications technology further evolve. This bodes well for mobile banking in the Philippines and UnionBank’s prospects of drawing in more EON Prepaid Account users.

Stronger security against cyberattacks
Selfie banking was one of the ways UnionBank rebooted its EON Prepaid Account to shield banking clients from cyberattacks.

“EON uses state-of-the-art face recognition technology. It is the same technology being used by the US and other countries for border control, immigration, and securing critical infrastructure,” says Baltao.

The bank designed the selfie banking feature to help safeguard client personal information and financial transactions. Clients can now choose the type of log in feature that they want, Facial Recognition or Selfie, Touch ID, or Usernname and Password with OTP. Aside from thwarting attackers that attempt to break into the account, this biometric-based authentication process spares the client from a tedious password recovery ordeal.

“Passwords are easily compromised. To respond to hacks, banks require customers to use more complex and cumbersome passwords — longer, changing more frequently, and therefore, more likely to be forgotten. EON spares its customers from all the hassle because with EON, your face is your password,” says Baltao.

To prevent fraud in emergency situations, such as when the card is lost, EON Prepaid Account users can lock their card or change their PIN with the EON app. When precious minutes can give attackers a bigger window of opportunity to hack into an account, clients can be more at ease knowing that they can perform these security actions without having to look for an ATM.

Asian banks have been ramping up their cybersecurity technology due to the rise in cyberattacks, including payment fraud and identity theft. Banks are even working together to establish solutions that will help the industry cope with the problem. For its part, UnionBank sought the assistance of the Philippine central bank Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to create a more secure and streamlined EON Prepaid Account experience.

Greater convenience for ‘Digital MEs’
Originally designed for easier online shopping which began booming in the 2000s, the EON Prepaid Account has been recently upgraded with features that bring greater transacting convenience to digital citizens — or what UnionBank calls “Digital MEs.”

To facilitate a fast account opening process, UnionBank enabled clients to purchase an EON Starter Kit at any branch of 7-Eleven, a leading convenience store chain in the Philippines with more than 1,700 branches nationwide as of 2016. It is also available in MiniStop, another convenience store chain with over 500 branches nationwide. A starter kit can also be ordered through the popular online marketplace Lazada. The starter kit’s wide accessibility brings as much convenience to new clients that want to open their first EON Prepaid Account as it does to old clients that have lost their cards and want to obtain replacements.

“No need to go to the branch. No forms. No time wasted. The customer just needs to download the EON app on Google Play or App Store and in a few steps, he will be using his EON Prepaid Account to manage his money like a whiz,” says Baltao. “Lost card? It shouldn’t be so troublesome. If the customer needs another one, he can just buy a new starter lit and link the new EON card to his account. Nobody has time for a long replacement process.”

Once activated, the new EON Prepaid Account enables clients to transfer funds from PayPal to their EON Prepaid Account, or cash in at convenience stores like 7-Eleven. UnionBank also made sure that clients had multiplatform access, allowing them to quickly pay bills and complete other transactions on their preferred devices.

“Customers can check their balance, move money, pay bills, and buy stuff on whatever device on-hand. Or even all of them: smartphones, tablets, desktops, or laptops,” says Baltao.

In the Philippines, Wi-Fi access remains sporadic, which would have constricted access to EON Prepaid Account. UnionBank solved this by allowing free access to the EON app using mobile data on any network, except when on roaming.

Baltao remembers the initial concept for EON as a no-fuss deposit account that required no minimum balance and waived unnecessary fees and penalties. The new EON Prepaid Account continues to provide these perks, but it has evolved to support digital MEs as the bank listened to their requests and observed their activities.

Because of these security and convenience upgrades, the bank reports increased usage of EON Prepaid Account for online and in-app purchases, and it should only be a matter of time before customers again pave the way for another evolution.

“People needed an account to be able to shop online so we launched EON which didn’t require customers to maintain a minimum balance. But since then, our customers discovered a bunch of ways to use their EON in their digital life,” says Baltao. “These guys were on the frontline of discovering new ways to earn and spend when they linked their EON Prepaid Account to PayPal. They've had the cashless experience when they used EON to pay at stores, and they were among the first to explore what technology made possible beyond traditional banking.” 

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