By Debbie Gamble

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of a digital-first approach, altering how Canadians are looking to interact with each other, access services and complete transactions.

Seeking to limit the impact and frequency of in-person interactions, six in 10 Canadians reported that they are more often transacting in ways that reduce physical contact, according to the most recent Digital ID Survey from Interac. In addition, nearly the same amount (59 percent) cite worries about hygiene when handling physical IDs.

However, while COVID-19 may have catalyzed and increased adoption of online access to goods and services for Canadian consumers and businesses, these changing behaviours point to a permanent shift to digital.

To support this shift, however, will require significant innovation: particularly when it comes to increasing access to forms of digital identification (digital ID). According to our survey, nearly seven in 10 Canadians (69 percent) believe such innovation is needed to speed up access to government services (particularly in a crisis). Over six in ten (65 percent) Canadians wish there were a more convenient way to verify the identity of someone they are doing business with online.

Digital ID is essentially a way to verify who we are, both online and offline, in a manner that safeguards personal information. And digital ID is central to providing citizens with access to critical services and to facilitating safe and secure online transactions.

In seeking to implement digital ID, and to benefit from the critical role it can play in building an inclusive and vibrant digital economy, there are number of key considerations that businesses should bear in mind from a customer perspective.

Security remains key
Although Canadians are demanding increased access to goods and services online, security remains a key consideration for adoption.

According to our recent survey, nearly seven in 10 (67 percent) Canadians responded that they are open to using a digital ID if it means their identity data is better protected than it is today. Over six in 10 (62 percent) care more now about keeping their identity data safe online than they did in the past. And Canadians over 55 are more likely to cite this concern (72 percent).

In order to speed access to digital ID, we can leverage the existing capabilities we have in place to facilitate the secure exchange of information. For example, the encryption and data abstraction technology currently used to secure payments made via the Interac network can also be used to secure digital IDs.

Need for frictionless experiences
Users (i.e. customers) have come to expect a frictionless digital experience, which extends to the use of digital forms of identification. The importance of offering a secure and seamless online customer journey has only increased as a result of the pandemic, with businesses and government interactions moving online.

Canadians agree that digital ID can play an important role in making online transactions more convenient. According to our survey one in two Canadians (51 percent) believe it would be, more convenient to have a single digital ID that bundles various physical IDs in one location when accessing online services, including fast authentication and login.

Currently we are overly reliant on physical forms of ID, which undermines the ability to deliver efficient, convenient and secure transactions. This is especially true at the moment for many small-midsized businesses (SMBs) where digital IDs can provide an important solution that better equips these organizations to reduce customer friction. This will lead to an enhanced online experience for them while increasing efficiencies for SMBs across Canada.

Transparency is critical
Canadians are also becoming more aware of the threats of fraud and cybersecurity attacks and are asking for greater transparency around how their information is used (70 percent in 2020 compared to 58 percent in 2019.

Canadians need to know how their information is being handled, stored and shared. Meanwhile regulatory bodies are placing increasing importance on putting safeguards in place to protect the privacy of customers/users.

Digital ID is one solution that would give consumers greater choice over how their personal data is stored and used, by allowing consumers to share only the data that is required or that they deem appropriate, while keeping the rest private. Organizations that are able to provide transparency and maintain strong security standards will ultimately be rewarded for following the regulations and elevating the user experience through increased customer loyalty and a competitive edge.

Digital ID and the future
The shift towards a digital economy has only accelerated because of COVID-19 and shows no signs of slowing down. At the same time COVID-19 has exacerbated security concerns over the current forms of identity.

New forms of identification are needed to access the full benefits of digital-based commerce. Physical identities can no longer be the status quo, and secure digital-first solutions, underpinned by government and businesses, must be adopted to meet the changing needs of Canadians.

In preparing for this future, Interac, alongside its subsidiary company 2Keys Corporation, are working with public and private sector stakeholders to bring digital ID solutions to market. They are being designed to address the increasing need for secure, convenient and privacy-enhancing identity verification by Canadians, while yielding a high degree of trust.

Debbie Gamble is chief officer, innovation labs and new ventures, Interac Corp.

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