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.

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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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Mobile Banking: Who has improved app usability and, surprisingly, how many haven’t

Seventy three percent of Australians aged 15-65 own a smartphone. 65% used their smartphone everyday over the past week and 77% don’t leave the home without their device. With the rise of mobile usage it’s no wonder some of Australia’s leading banks are now making the mobile customer experience a priority (Frost & Sullivan Australian Mobile Device Usage Trends 2013).

However, since releasing our incredibly popular mobile banking app usability white paper in August 2013, it is surprising to see how little has changed in the Australian mobile banking app market!

The CommBank mobile banking app is one banking application leading the way in not only giving customers the ability to manage their finances while on the go, but helping users in making it a usable, seamless, easy and quick process. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Optional Transfers Customers have the option to make payments to a friend via Facebook, mobile number or their friend’s email address through the CommBank app. All the recipient needs is an Australian BSB and account number. Existing Commonwealth Bank customers will receive the funds directly into their account. Ensuring no-one is left out, anyone who is not a Commonwealth Bank customer will receive a text notification and a code from the sender to retrieve funds.

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CommBank’s mobile banking app, transfers, May 2014

2. On-the-Go payments using NFC or PayTag CommBank has been one of the fastest movers on allowing customers to pay on-the-go using either NFC (near field communication) or their recently introduced PayTag technology. A PayTag will cost customers $2.99 and sticks to the back of the mobile phone, working just like a credit card for tap-and-go payments. The PayTag is simple to install using on screen instructions, and is used by just tapping your phone as you would with a credit card.

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PayTag for iPhones

3. Cards Top-Up Easily top your cards up while on the go. This is a particularly useful feature when using travel cards and need to quickly access accounts to transfer money to your Commonwealth Bank travel cards all in one place within the app. Once navigated to the “top up” feature, large credit card images are visually displayed on screen accompanied by a large “top up” button where customers can simply “top up” from one card to another.

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CommBank’s Card Top-up, May 2014

4. Transfer between accounts Vertical scrolling wheel to select accounts for transfer ensuring there is minimal user input to complete the task. Only relevant information is visible on screen keeping design minimal, user friendly and removing the possibilities for user errors or confusion.

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Transfer between accounts, May 2014

5. Usability and overall user experience The most common tasks performed by users are now visible with a clear call to action on the launch screen. As users have limited time and generally be on-the-go, it is important to consider the context in which the mobile app is used. CommBank does a nice job of bringing these common tasks like account transfers, payments and tap and pay forward for their customers, whilst still keeping all app functions easily accessible through the main hamburger menu (top right).

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Launch Screen (left) and Navigation (right), May 2014

The mobile payment space may have started out somewhat slower than expected from Australia’s leading banks, however, with the ever-increasing rise in mobile use, together with customers demanding quick and usable payment solutions this is sure to change. This is evident with many of Australia’s leading banks currently releasing and/or testing new mobile payment solutions for their customers. The examples provided show CommBank leading the way with updated features and usability making everyday tasks easier for their customers.

It has never been more important to be considering the user experience of the product by researching and testing new solutions and designs with customers to evaluate how, when and why they may or may not use their mobiles for payment and everyday banking.

Providing customers with an accessible, easy and useful mobile payment experience can go a long way in, not only ensuring they continue to use it, but that they will be one of your strongest advocates.

So do you have a product or service you want to put in front of your customers? Find out about all your usability testing options and contact us for a quote!

Myles Clemones – UX Consultant