On the Road at G20: the Role of Identity in Financial Inclusion

When it comes to financial inclusion, one of the central issues is identity. And while the popular image of those excluded from the global economy are of those struggling in developing or impoverished economies—say the migratory sherpa lacking a home address—the way our current system is set up means that financial exclusion can strike anyone.

Take my colleague who recently relocated to San Francisco. Despite a well-paying job and an exceptional credit history in Europe, he was unable to open a bank account or even lease an apartment because his identity was only valid in Europe.

Things clearly aren’t working when an educated expat earning a six-figure salary can’t set up a basic checking account. It’s no wonder then that 2.5 billion people in the world share the same problem.

Today, the reality is we don’t own or control our online identities. Instead, they reside in countless, redundant silos begrudgingly kept by service providers like retailers and financial institutions. Just as you can’t bring your eBay reputation to Yelp, you can’t import your credit history from Europe to the U.S.

In a recent interview with Kosta Peric, former Head of Innovation at SWIFT, he pointed to identity management as a key development challenge: “The second problem [related to online identity] is data silos… where my reputation on eBay is only valued on eBay and my Twitter followers are only relevant on Twitter. I have invested a lot of time and effort and money to build this up and now let’s say one of these companies goes away or is acquired or changes. All of that data—which I don’t call physical identity, I call it digital assets—how do I manage that for myself?”

Technology has incredible potential to address these obstacles. On the one hand, it provides opportunities for new and diverse identity platforms. Fidor, for instance, allows customers to open an account using their Facebook credentials. On the other hand, innovative solutions like decentralized identity will empower individuals to own their financial identities, while enhancing identity security.

For the financially underserved, the inability to track and control their identities precludes economic progress in many cases. With ownership of identity comes access to financial systems and opportunities that are just out of reach today.

Our chief compliance officer, Karen Gifford, is in Perth, Australia this week, discussing this very issue with some of the most forward-thinking minds in technology and economic development at events surrounding the G20 Summit.