Every year, EFI supports challenge-led and interdisciplinary research projects led by our students through our Student Research Awards. This year, EFI funding has supported the development of Onboard.ID, a new digital identity system which makes managing online identity verification easier and more secure. The project addresses issues that we all face in our daily lives, particularly when using financial services. It also provides a compelling example of how we can tackle real challenges by working with external partners and demonstrates the creative use of technology for to testing innovative solutions.
Digital identity verification
Digital identity verification is used in many online services. For example, banking, education, and government services.
Each time users set up an account on a new digital service (e.g., an online banking account), they need to go through the process of verifying their identity. This may include scanning identity documents, setting up a facial recognition system or inputting memorable information. This process is often lengthy and repetitive. For example, if a user wants to open multiple online bank accounts at different banks, they need to repeat the digital identity verification process multiple times.
Financial inclusion and data security
When a digital identity verification process is too complex, users are likely to give up before getting to the end. On average, 30% of ‘onboardings’ are abandoned midway through. A complex process also excludes users with lower digital literacy skills or who have difficulty accessing digital resources. In the financial sector, this poses a significant problem for financial inclusion.
Privacy and data security are also an issue. Where digital identities are stored centrally, for example via Google keychain, there is an increased risk of security breaches in comparison with when information is decentralised. For example, if a centralised database is hacked or information is accidentally made publicly available, users’ identity data could be compromised.
Onboard.ID aims to address these problems by providing a decentralised identification system which is controlled and managed by the user. Users will complete a one-off digital identity verification process and this information is stored as an identity token on their personal device, not in a centralised database. Users are therefore in control of their own identity token, using it across services to verify their identity quickly.
By creating a digital identity token which can be used for multiple online services, identity verification is made easier for users. It also improves the security of identity data, as individual devices are less at risk of major security breaches than large, centralised databases.
For service providers such as banks, the use of Onboard.ID offers an opportunity to improve their client experience. Lowering the number of users who abandon their systems during onboarding could help cut costs and increase user satisfaction. As identity tokens are verified by the users themselves, they are also highly accurate, reducing the error rate for service providers. For educational intuitions, such as universities, Onboard.ID could also reduce human resource and administration costs.
The research team are currently piloting Onboard.ID with financial services partners and are looking for businesses who are interested in supporting its development. Contact for more information.
Onboard.ID has the potential to transform the ways in which we manage our data online and to improve the accessibility and security of financial, educational and government systems.
Kai Jun Eer is a Kai is a researcher in the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. He is also a recent awardee of the third round of Edinburgh Futures Institute’s Student Research Projects.