Coronavirus lockdown spurs widespread adoption of digital ID tech in Canada

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The coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive surge in Canadians using digital identity authentication platforms to get immediate access to government emergency aid.

This shift to remote access for digital services is likely to be permanent. As Canadians have become accustomed to using ID verification for accessing government services, they may also use this technology to apply for services in sectors such as banking, real estate, insurance and health care.

During the lockdown, Canadians couldn’t show up in person for bank loans or government benefits. The only way they could apply for coronavirus-related government aid was by remotely logging into their Revenue Canada accounts. However, they had to prove they were who they said they were.

One option was to apply for government services security credentials to be posted to them, but, because of the lockdown, these took several weeks to arrive. The other alternative was to use a digital ID online. Unsurprisingly, many applicants opted for this method, leading to huge demand for two Canadian digital authentication platforms, Concierge from SecureKey Technologies and GCKey from 2Keys. Both Concierge and GCKey provide single-sign-in digital authentication for accessing Canadian government services and benefits.

“In the first weeks of the pandemic, we saw millions of new Concierge users,” said Greg Wolfond, SecureKey’s CEO. Concierge, which enables Canadians to access their Revenue Canada taxpayer accounts by logging into their bank, was processing 800 government aid transactions a second during the pandemic.

Greg Wolfond, SecureKey’s CEO.
Greg Wolfond, SecureKey’s CEO.

2Keys, which was acquired by Canada's Interac payments scheme in November 2019, also saw a surge in usage.

“In April 2020, we saw 1 million new users and a 549% increase in total logins for Employment Insurance and state pension benefits via our service” said Tara Bailey, VP of service delivery at 2Keys.

Disbursing Canadian government aid isn’t the only service relying on digital ID verification to deal with COVID-19. “Interest in remote identity verification has been broadly dispersed across the government, health services, retail, insurance, financial services and legal sectors,” Wolfond said.

SecureKey’s Verified.Me federated identity network, which launched in April 2019 with support from Canada’s top banks and telcos, has seen a significant increase in the number of service providers joining the platform, according to Wolfond.

Based on Concierge, Verified.Me runs on a private blockchain and uses encrypted customer information from multiple databases to verify users’ identities in real time. SecureKey’s partners include Equifax, which checks that there is no fraud on applicants’ financial accounts; Onfido, which checks the legitimacy of photo ID documents uploaded to Verified.Me; and EnStream, a joint venture between Canadian telcos Bell Mobility, Telus and Rogers Communications, which ensures consumers’ mobile phone accounts haven’t been hacked.

“As a result of the lockdown, Canadian banks are keen to launch remote services and use our digital ID platform so customers don’t have to visit branches to apply for new products,” Wolfond said.

In 2016, the Canadian government amended its financial regulations to enable consumers to open bank accounts with electronic signatures. Most of Canada’s largest banks such as Scotiabank, TD and Royal Bank of Canada are already using Verified.Me for onboarding new customers.

When customers want to open new accounts or apply for loans, they can click on the Verified.Me link on the provider’s website or app, which directs them to their existing bank for log-in. Customers then provide consent for their financial and credit information to be shared with the FI they are opening an account with.

Effective identity verification needs a combination of players, according to Wolfond. “Just relying on uploaded copies of drivers’ licenses is inadequate, as these ID documents are available on the criminal dark web,” he said. “Instead, we rely on a coalition of government agencies, banks and telcos who all provide data for our identity platform.”

According to Wolfond, post-COVID-19, SecureKey will be in a stronger position, as so many people will have used its platform during the pandemic. “We think there will be a permanent shift to using remote authentication methods after the lockdown, as people who weren’t digital are now more comfortable using digital,” he said. “So we’ll see a lot of industry sectors adopting digital authentication, for example for identity verification for large online purchases. Now people have learned how to do everything digitally, we won’t go back down to the levels before the crisis.”

Verified.Me’s non-bank customers include insurer Sun Life Financial, health care provider Dynacare, electronic document signature provider Notarius, and property title insurance and borrower validation services provider FCT.

Dynacare has been using Verified.Me as the digital identity validation and verification platform for Dynacare Plus, a digital service enabling patients to manage their healthcare remotely, since Spring 2020.

“We chose Verified.Me as it allows us to offer our members a more convenient process to validate and verify their identity in order to access their lab test results,” said Arun Thomas, Dynacare’s CIO and vice president of IT solutions and services. “The challenges we experienced (with SecureKey) were such as might be expected in any large-scale implementation. They included ensuring compatibility of platforms, providing seamless experiences for customers, and rigorous QA testing.”

Thomas said that there has been a positive initial response from Dynacare Plus members. “Whereas previously members would have had to go into a physical Dynacare location and get a PIN before accessing their results, with Verified.Me they can verify their identity online and access their results without a physical PIN.”

Scotiabank is using Verified.Me to facilitate high-trust digital interactions in a way that is simple and intuitive for customers, said Shashank Saurabh, Scotiabank’s director of digital products. The bank intends to use Verified.Me to make it easier for new customers to onboard digitally and get Scotiabank products without having to go to a branch. But, as digital ID is a very new concept to most consumers, customer education about Verified.Me is an important goal for Scotiabank.

“With Verified.Me, customers no longer have to input their information manually in order to open an account digitally,” Saurabh said. “Instead, they can choose to share their information directly from data providers participating in the Verified.Me network, including other banks and credit-rating agencies.”

Scotiabank customers can also use their online banking credentials and Verified.Me to have trusted interactions with third-party service providers such as Dynacare and FCT, Saurabh said.

The bank has seen steady growth in usage of Verified.Me since the service launched in April 2019 . “Growth is accelerating as SecureKey brings new service providers into the network,” Saurabh said.

When assessing digital ID-related capabilities, the privacy of customers is paramount, according to Saurabh. “SecureKey has worked with Scotiabank and other banks to ensure that we aren’t creating new honeypots of data, that customer information is only shared and displayed as needed, and that information is only used for the stated intent,” he said.

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