How Digital Identity Technology Can Help Prepare Us For More ‘Unprecedented Times’

Stephen Ritter is Chief Technology Officer at Mitek, a global leader in mobile deposit and digital identity verification solutions.

If future civilizations wanted to study 2020, surely one “historical artifact” they would examine would be the viral supercut of Covid-19 commercials. As most of us have heard repeated ad nauseam, the phrase “these unprecedented times” highlights just how unpredictable the events of 2020 have been.

Among the many unforeseen challenges was the need to provide urgent, widescale access to services via digital channels. Millions faced a dire and immediate need for government assistance and the ability to quickly open new bank accounts or to find new employment virtually. At the same time, companies and municipalities were often delayed in providing for those needs due to a lack of quick onboarding solutions.

As we look back on the year, we must prepare for the next unprecedented moment in history, whenever that may be. Having worked with digital identity verification solutions as the CTO of Mitek, I believe digital identity technology can play an important role in ensuring people have the ability to quickly access crucial services when they need them most. 

Exposing An Achilles’ Heel

Between March and August, almost 60 million Americans filed jobless claims. In June, when the number hit 40 million, there were widespread claims of delays in unemployment onboarding and distribution of assistance. As reported by The Hill, the surge in claims “overwhelmed state processing systems that experts say depend on outdated technology and have long been underfunded, leaving as much as a third of applicants without their owed benefits.”

These problems haven’t been limited to government agencies either. Many industries and services depend on people verifying who they are or, in more antiquated cases, appearing in person to receive access. Signing up for an account, entering personal details, waiting for an agent to manually verify an identity or even waiting for a letter in the mail are taxing activities, especially when they need to be done on a global scale.

As we saw this year, onboarding via these methods is inconvenient at best. At worst, it can prevent people from receiving crucial, life-saving assistance in a timely manner. It’s an Achilles’ heel we cannot ignore.

A Multifaceted Solution

Digital identity technology provides a valuable solution to overcoming many of the barriers to digital and remote onboarding, especially when access to in-person services is limited. Digital identity platforms are an online counterpart to someone’s real-life identity — a representation of someone’s personal identity attributes.

The most secure type of digital identity is verified and tied to a real-life person via an identity verification solution, allowing it to be trusted and used as the online presence of a specific, real human. This can even include the identity attributes being stored in the consumer’s “wallet,” with simple “identity validator” trust marks associated with them. 

When implemented as part of the onboarding process, digital identities provide a speed and security that more manual methods cannot. Because the identity has already been verified and the evidence of that verification has been stored, it eliminates the need for individual providers to collect and verify information themselves and gives them preexisting information they can already trust.

The benefits of digital identities don’t stop at mere operational efficiencies. According to the World Bank, 3.4 billion people have some type of legally recognized identification but limited ability to use it in the digital world. Legacy identification systems have gotten us this far, but many people have long been left behind, with no real solution in place to address the problem.

Whether it’s the growing number of people applying for government assistance, the need for adequate access to banking services or the opportunity to make a living virtually, digital access is more important than ever for disenfranchised communities. Effective deployment of digital identity solutions can ensure that these communities and others around the world are able to access the services they need. And as the use of digital identities becomes increasingly mainstream, the technology will have a kind of “butterfly effect,” further spreading access to services and economic participation.

We don’t know what or when the next “unprecedented time” will be. And because we can’t know the future, we need to get to work now on digital identity-powered onboarding solutions that will empower us, rather than hinder us, during a time of urgency. We can’t create a certain world, but we can take proactive measures to create certainty within it.

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