COVID-19 has triggered unprecedented change around the world, imposing social distancing and a dramatic increase in remote working. With millions of people now following governmental advice to stay at home, Mobey Forum’s Digital ID expert group is busy exploring how digital identity schemes can help life to continue via online channels. Elina Mattila, Executive Director at Mobey Forum, shares her insight with PaymentExpert.

Everywhere, people of all demographics are adapting their daily routine in order to prioritise the health and wellbeing of society. As we collectively navigate this ‘new normal,’ our reliance on technology has increased tenfold. More people are relying on the internet to manage their personal and professional responsibilities, from access to banking, government resources and other critical services. As a result, the need for secure and user-friendly ways to verify our identity online has become more important than ever before.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak took hold, Mobey Forum published an independent and commercially neutral report which explored seven of the most prominent digital ID schemes across Europe and North America. While most schemes are in the relatively early stages of maturity, the report nonetheless identified a number of societal benefits to adoption. In the light of the world’s sudden dependency on digitised services, the power of these benefits has increased manifold.

With this in mind, the group will now refocus exclusively on COVID-19, exploring the challenges posed by the pandemic in a bid to establish if and how digital identity schemes can help, both now and in the future.

With the long term impact of COVID-19 still unknown, being able to verify our identity online has taken on a new significance.  We have never faced a global health emergency with access to the technology we have today, enabling us to view the societal impact of the virus through a new lens. What was impossible decades ago may be plausible today.

The digital identity scheme landscape

Today’s digital identity schemes vary dramatically based on scheme maturity, geography, structure and whether they have a commercial or governmental origin. While implementation has historically been led by the banking industry, the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, alongside other global companies, are increasingly competing for a seat at the table.

The battle for leadership is entering a new phase. With millions of people staying at home, governments are under pressure to ensure that their citizens still have access to key services such as banking, healthcare and education. It is technologically possible to allow access to many of these services remotely, and examples are being set by countries such as Norway and Estonia which have been able to offer a wide range of digital services during this period.

The opportunity for Digital ID

That said, there are many new requirements unique to COVID-19. With schools closed, teachers worldwide need to confirm their identity in order to provide remote online education. Whilst, another emerging challenge is around supermarket access for healthcare workers. At present, healthcare workers may be invited to visit a store during specially allocated hours, but this could be simplified through a digital identity scheme which allowed them priority access to online deliveries.

Last year’s research confirmed that digital identity schemes can play an important role in allowing life to continue online and while we may not have the perfect solutions in place today, identifying the gaps will help us improve current circumstances, and be better prepared for future.