Tuesday 27 July 2021 6:30 am

Digital credentials are not the enemy - they are the next step of innovation and efficiency

Marjan Delatinne is Managing Director of Payments at SETL

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.  Sometimes, significant challenges force us to innovate and we find solutions not just for the current need but ones that will endure in the future. We should continually set new standards of efficiency and resilience. 

Today, we are used to trusting technology to make our lives more efficient and convenient.  We have all seen the world of payments evolve from exchanging notes and cheques (remember them?) to the digital exchange of information between issuing banks, merchants and users, with technology paving every step of the way.

We now think nothing of touching our debit cards to readers on the way into the underground, or using facial recognition to buy goods online or in supermarkets with our phones.  Digital wallets can securely store payment credentials in one place, without the need to carry a wallet filled with plastic cards and bank notes.  Yet still today, most of us present our Passports or Driving Licenses to prove who we are, and use bank statements or utility bills to prove our addresses. We still rely on our paper Birth Certificates and University Degrees as irrefutable proof of our claims.

Now the world of proving our personal credentials and identification is also going digital – a trend which has undergone significant acceleration during the global Covid pandemic.

This year the NHS has produced a digital verifiable credential for those who are double-vaccinated, proving their fitness to work or travel. This credential is stored inside the NHS app and can be proven with a QR code when face-to-face with immigration at the airport, or proving to your boss that you are fit to work. But this is only the beginning of a wide scale adoption of digital verifiable credentials.

Covid has shown that this innovation is much more than just a natural next step bringing more convenience to the administrative parts of our lives – it is absolutely vital to getting people back to work, back together with their loved ones, back to their lives.

Beyond the pandemic, digital verifiable credentials have the power to make everything more efficient and convenient, from Know-Your-Client protocols for financial services companies, to proving your entitlement to a disabled parking spot, or that your electrician is qualified to rewire your house.

Imagine how much easier life would be if all of your credentials and identification were held in a secure digital wallet, all of which can be proven simply with a wave of your phone.

So when might we expect paper-based credentials to be superseded?  The answer is sooner than you think. 

In February the Government announced its digital identity and attributes trust framework to further the development of a national digital ID. The next version is due by the end of the summer, with legislation being considered later in the year.

Elsewhere, the European Union announced proposals for its own trusted and secure digital ID, inviting Member States to establish a “common toolbox” by September 2022.  

The direction of travel is very clear and the pandemic has grown demand considerably.  New digital ecosystems and frameworks for verifiable credentials are being drawn-up as we speak.

As the UK has been a proud leader in innovation in the past, it has the opportunity to do so again, but it will require a far-sighted approach that not only delivers its people out of the jaws of the pandemic, but one that also understands that the implementation of these protocols now, can make future life easier for consumers and help build a competitive UK as it strives to make its way in a new global economy.

For the post-Covid, Post-Brexit UK, it is vital that we board the digital credentials train right now, so that the Government, institutions, businesses and consumers alike can all benefit.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.