Diving straight in to substantive content on day one of Sibos 2021, Brad Carr, managing director of digital finance at the Institute of International Finance led discussion during the morning panel ‘Digital Identity – Balancing between convenience and trust.’
Turning first to Sopnendu Mohanty, chief fintech officer for the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Carr questioned what digital identity means to Mohanty, and about the most exciting developments being seen in the space.
Mohanty explained that throughout Singapore’s journey in the space, identity has been adopted in a digital-first manner in light of the digital economy.
He added that ‘Singpass’ is one of four elements of Singapore’s foundational digital infrastructure, comprising: the trusted digital identity, a trusted data exchange platform, a highly interoperable payment system, and a data consent system.
“These four elements come together to form what we call the foundational rail for a digital economy to succeed. Singapore’s view on digital identity is that it is almost conditional, because the future economy is going to run on digital rails. It’s therefore important for us to build an open, trusted, highly connected ecosystem with digital identity as the cornerstone of the whole process. This applies to both individuals and businesses.”
Mohanty furthered that financial services have been the biggest users of the digital identity process, with onboarding across the industry, for instance, now carried out using the digital identity infrastructure e-YKC process to open accounts.
Dakota Gruener, executive director of the digital identity alliance, ID2020, continued on the relevance of identity today, noting that identity is what determines the rights and services we can or cannot access, and it therefore has the power to transform lives.
“Identity can help individuals exercise their human rights, enjoy full protection under the law, enhance our ability to access critical services such as education or health care, and enable us to participate fully as citizens or voters and transact in an increasingly digital economy.”
Agreeing with the sentiment that the digital identity is vital to the digital infrastructure of our future, Gruener explained that this idea is only becoming more and more true as more of everyone’s lives shift online.
She furthered that credential and identity proofing are two core elements that ID2020 considers to be fundamental to the improvement of digital identity movements across the globe in order to improve the lives of underserved segments of the population.
Gruener argued that an important goal for those working on the digital identity imperative, is that it is vital to be crystal clear on the scope of each player’s efforts and work to understand how different pieces of the digital identity puzzle can fit together.
“To some extent, it's confusing when all of us are working in the digital identity space, for example we’re working on open standards for digital identity and some of that work focuses on verifiable credentials, some focuses on identity proofing, some of it first focuses on national identity. These are all different pieces of the puzzle we're all working towards and should readily complement each other.”
The role of financial services in developing interoperability is central according to Rod Boothby, global head of identity and digital trust, Banco Santander, who laid out the specific use cases where digital identity can make the largest contributions.
“It’s actually really simple, if I can prove my identity I can then prove to you how I’d like to get paid…and we can create a set of certainty throughout the payment system. It allows us also to create huge new options for how people can exchange value - which extends the capability beyond connecting with the individual, but connecting them with the organisation that they’re associated with.”
He explained that in the new payment journeys where fraud is increasingly a concern, if the question of security and fraud can be removed, the playing field can be levelled out. Currently, the largest online retailers are operating what are effectively “trust oligopolies” because their consumer base trusts the brand and is comfortable using them. In reality, these are just logistics companies, and as time goes on and the proliferation of effective identity verification systems increases, the playing field should even out and allow for greater participation in global economies across the board.
On building access and addressing the digital divide, Gruener added that ID2020’s Certification Mark launched in 2019 has helped technology companies prioritise their product development roadmaps to ensure they are meeting best practices. “We also work on programmes which ensure that we’re testing the viability of these technologies in low income, low connectivity environments to ensure that we’re closing rather than exacerbating the digital divide.”
“We know that as digital identity technology moves forward, where there's commercial opportunity, commercial pilots will be run, we will learn how to implement those technologies, and these things will scale. But where it's uneconomic for businesses to invest in digital identity solutions, what we find is that those pilots don't get run, people don't ask the necessary questions, they don’t know if the project will be viable and it becomes a cop out. With that, we focused our work on saying how do we ask the necessary questions to inform the adoption and scale up of digital identity technologies to serve the needs of the most vulnerable,” Gruner stated.