An Objective Consideration of Signatures and Forgery

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 3rd Next Bank Asia conference in Singapore. There was a lot of discussion about the future of banking customer experience and the need for simpler banking solutions.

One topic of current interest is the ongoing use of signatures as a form of identity in banking contexts. Brett King, CEO of Moven – a mobile banking startup, proclaims in a blog post that signatures are no longer an effective form of identification.

My PhD research is in cognitive-behavioural forensics  with a focus on signature forgery. We use eye-tracking, handwriting kinematics and questionnaires to gain insight into the signature forgery process. There are a few points about signatures and their portrayal that I believe are worthy of mention.

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Signature Forgery Research in Melbourne

It is important to understand just how relevant signatures are today. Try and remember just how many times you have signed something in the last month. Then multiply that by 12 to gauge how many things you have signed in the last year.  Understand that almost entire populations of people are doing the same thing! Signatures are VERY numerous and it’s a misconception to believe that they are fading away. In fact, there currently exists little, to no substantial  evidence that can statistically quantify this ‘dying’ of signatures. Claims about signatures fading appear to be fuelled by instances of medium to large sized companies shifting to other means of verification.

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Signatures are considered a behavioural biometric that we rely on for proof of identity. Unlike that of DNA, retinal patterns or finger prints, they are subject to change from day to day. It is this variability that has made signatures such an interesting and unique form of identification.

inconsistency

Because signatures are physically produced and can vary physically, they can also be forged. Evidence from studies have shown there are a few ways in which to improve the difficulty with which your signature can be copied. These include increasing the complexity of your signature by adding more line intersections and turning points, incorporating atypical line directions and angles, preferably making your signature illegible and being physically consistent when you write it! However, properly forging signatures is not as easy as you might believe. There are many established typical tell-tale signs of a forgery, which are difficult for forgers to avoid and relatively easy to detect.

I was having a chat with Louise Long from NAB and she mentioned some work she had been assigned involved checking the signatures produced in the bank (for verification purposes). The process of checking signatures for verification purposes is one that also occurs everyday in places like stores and banks. However, the process of verifying signatures is much more complicated that people assume, particularly without a fundamental understanding of the theory underpinning signatures and their examination. One useful tip is that there tends to be a trade-off between line quality and spatial quality when someone forgers a signature. This means that line tremor (or poor line quality) can therefore be used as an indicator of a forgery. However, this is not always the case, and that’s why signature examination can be such a difficult task!

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Line quality difference typical of signature forgeries

It should be noted that only professional signature examiners called forensic document examiners are properly qualified to provide opinions about the proposition that a signature is the process of a forgery, or not. So if your working at a bank or supermarket and are unsure whether two signatures ‘match’, don’t feel bad if its difficult to determine – remember, signatures are usually quite physically variable! This is why when a dispute arises, handwriting experts are usually called upon.

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Often when people talk about signatures, broad statements attempting to explain a magnitude of issues are asserted without consideration of finer points. A distinctions between signatures’ effectiveness as a form of proof of identity and signatures’ convenience as a form of proof of identity (from a user experience point of view) should be made. In addition, the security behind signing verses other forms of verification is again a separate topic.

Without going into too much detail about the reasons why signatures are still so widely used today (such as convenience and technological infrastructure), it could be argued that perhaps signatures will eventually one day be replaced (in most contexts) by more robust biometrics that are not susceptible to variation. All factors considered, signatures are probably still the best forms of identification we currently have access to. If they weren’t, we probably wouldn’t be using them so readily. Although, there are examples of companies and institutions making innovative movements, such as the shift toward the use of pins instead of signatures (e.g. see Commonwealth bank), this is a very minute percentage of signings when considered on a global scale.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked that unlike signatures, pins can be forgotten and pins can also be stolen. So for now, if you’ve ever been worried about the security of your signature, the least you can do is attempt to make it more forge-proof (for more information, see my other post on how to protect your signature against forgery).

For further insight about what the future might hold for signatures, I’d recommend reading Developments in Handwriting and Signature Identification in the Digital Age

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Combining Contextual Inquiry with Eye Tracking

With technology becoming more and more complex, it is key to understand how actual users interact with challenging applications. Observing users work with these systems while at work or home is bound to yield rich qualitative data.

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Objective Digital’s article, “Combining Contextual Inquiry with Eye Tracking” in UX Magazine describes how eye tracking call center operators revealed some pretty amazing insights. It revealed how a stressful environment coupled with an ineffective interface can result in bigger issues, like poor customer satisfaction and high staff turnover.

Needless to say, the findings from the eye tracking analysis put a lot of arguments to rest and were the basis for the design decisions for the systems improvement.

“I finally get it!” – Eye Tracking

Next Bank Sydney 13 brought banking experts from around the World to a wonderful venue in The Rocks, Simmer by the Bay.  As a speaker, I was set a challenge by Rob Findlay, Next Bank Founder, “Shake it up”. So I did. Next Bank Sydney Logo

Instead of my run-of-the-mill presentation, I fearfully told a story about the things that piss me off in banking and the broader enterprise marketing realm and how eye tracking can dramatically improve the situation. I really want to help people discover that:

  • Data from poor market research methods add no value to business decisions and are ignored by senior execs
  • Understanding human unconscious is critical in marketing and no, you don’t know much about what really drives your customers. Certainly nothing about how or why they do what they do.
  • Marketing budgets are simply wasted if no-one looks at your stuff and this is avoidable.
  • A shit ad is a shit ad, no matter where you stick it.

My presentation was a resounding success and at the end a client of 6 years approached me and said, “You know I have worked with you for more than 6 years and only now do I really understand eye tracking!”

Here’s my presentation, enjoy and let me know what you think?

Here’s the slides with text for your reading pleasure.

Objective Measures of our Subconscious

The brain processes 400 billion bits of information a second. BUT, we are ONLY aware of 2,000 of those.” (Dr. Joseph Dispenza)

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At any given moment, our brain is receiving a great deal of visual information from our surrounding environment – changes in visual space, colours, shapes, and movement of objects. We take in so much visual information that our brain selectively filters out unimportant visual data and stores it in our subconscious memory.

Not to be dismissed, the subconscious mind has a great impact on our decision-making, thoughts, and behavior. Whether its browsing a website, glancing at an advertisement, or navigating a shopping aisle, visual information filtered into our subconscious memory influences how we react in these environments.

If the subconscious mind affects a person’s behavior with, or perceptions of, an environment (either physical or virtual), then it makes sense to understand it. In this instance, traditional research methods, such as focus groups, depth interviews, surveys, digital analytics, accompanied shops and intercepts, are limited in helping us understand subconscious reactions and behaviors. So, how do we measure the subconscious?

Our eyes process approximately 300 frames per second – processing visual information at every point. By measuring where someone is looking at each frame, allows us to detect elements in the environment that people visually perceive but may not be able to recall or remember – this is what our brain has processed into subconscious memory.

Eye tracking, as a research technique, enables us to measure each individual point at which our brain processes a piece of visual information. Replaying people’s eye movements back to them (a research method known as Retrospective Think Aloud) assists people to become consciously aware of these elements – that is, bringing these elements back into consciousness.

Shopping, for example, is largely a subconscious process, where behavior unfolds as a result of perception of visuals and other cues in the environment. By using eye tracking, we are able to objectively measure how customers respond to these cues, which our brain often filters into the unconscious mind. In such instances, eye tracking has enabled us to capture both the conscious and unconscious response to visual stimuli and provide deeper customer insights and understanding.

Incorporating eye tracking into research studies involving human interactions with systems or environments has allowed us greater insight into people’s subconscious. More importantly, eye-tracking data has provided an objective and more detailed view of actual behavior.

Objective Digital are leaders in using eye tracking technology to uncover unconscious insights which can be decoded to improve the customer experience. Having worked with large financial institutions, telco’s, retailers, travel companies, government bodies and universities, our team is equipped with a wealth of knowledge across all aspects of customer experience.