Digital Identity & Mobile: The Power Duo behind Inclusive Digital Transformation and 5 trends we’ve spotted over the last year

The COVID pandemic has amplified the role of mobile in enabling access to life-enhancing digital services in one’s own name by empowering individuals to assert their identity digitally (and remotely).

Through our projects and research, generously supported by the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, we’ve identified five key trends that demonstrate the close links between mobile, digital ID and achieving transformational, socioeconomic outcomes.

Trend 1. A mobile-linked Digital ID can help individuals access life enhancing services – from managing their medical records to unlocking credit for their small businesses.

Over the last few months we worked with several partners in Kenya to launch Afya Moja, a simple, mobile-based digital health passport that receives and securely stores patient information. It allows users to access a copy of their own health information and the ability to share it with trusted health providers. And also allows doctors, upon consent, to have access to patients’ medical backgrounds and therefore respond effectively to their needs.

We also worked with a mobile operator in Nigeria to launch an identity platform designed to help small business-owners prove their business credentials for the purpose of accessing capital. The Mobile-linked ID is also aimed at helping business owners build trust with customers, suppliers and service providers

Trend 2. For many underserved groups having a mobile subscription in one’s own name is a pre-requisite for true digital and financial inclusion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how vital it is for individuals to have access to mobile services in their own name. In addition to enabling access to critical healthcare information, digital platforms also supported individuals with remote learning and enabled them to receive social protection payments from their government that, in most cases, safeguarded them from the financial impact of lockdown measures. Connectivity has truly been a lifeline. But big gaps remain – between those who can meet the necessary identity-requirements to access mobile services in their own name, and those who can’t.

Our annual Access to Mobile Services and Proof of Identity 2021 research report series examines SIM registration policies globally and finds, among other things, that certain underserved groups are significantly less likely to have a SIM card registered in their own name. These include:

  • Women;
  • those who are unemployed;
  • persons with disabilities;
  • those with only primary education; and
  • displaced populations, including refugees.

Trend 3. The more Mobile Operators invest in digital customer onboarding processes, the more they find that they can leverage them to offer commercially-sustainable, yet socially-impactful, Digital ID services.

Customer proof-of-identity requirements for mobile SIM registration and mobile money Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements are often regarded by mobile network operators (MNOs) as costly compliance obligations that can exclude customers who do not have the requisite identity documents (ID). However, our recent research with MNOs in 31 countries has revealed that when a digital ID ecosystem has been built properly and supported by the public and private sector, ID verification during customer on-boarding can provide commercial benefits and opportunities for MNOs. In fact:

  • 91% of MNOs with digital SIM registration and mobile money KYC processes feel that knowing their customers better allows them to offer more personalised services that could drive financial inclusion among underserved communities;
  • 61% of MNOs are keen to work with Digital ID innovators to launch new products and services for their customers; and
  • Enabling policy environments are key. MNOs that are confident they can reap the benefits of digital ID verification are investing, on average, 250% more in their SIM registration/KYC on-boarding processes.

Trend 4. Progressive governments are adapting their policies or relaxing regulations to ensure more people can access mobile-enabled services – including social benefits – in their own name, during COVID-19.

During the pandemic, people have been unable to conduct their affairs in person due to restrictions of movement. Over the last few months we interviewed – and we are encouraged to hear how – several government ministries, central banks and mobile operators in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) have been taking steps to facilitate access to mobile services and Mobile Money wallets in particular. For millions of people in LMICs, having a mobile money wallet is their only path to financial inclusion and for receiving life-saving benefits. Measures such as temporarily relaxing KYC requirements for onboarding beneficiaries to mobile money, have accelerated the digitalisation of social cash transfers and other Government-to-Person (G2P) payments while supporting the financial inclusion of underserved groups, who faced further marginalisation as a result of ‘lockdown’ restrictions.

An estimated one billion people worldwide—typically the most marginalised and vulnerable groups–lack official proof of their identity. Many more have forms of ID that are insecure or untrusted, or live in countries where these systems are ill-equipped to support service delivery, used in ways that compound inequalities, or fail to adequately protect personal data. Improving the accessibility, quality, and governance of ID systems is therefore critical for inclusive development, including achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG 16.9.

In an effort to create a shared vision towards fulfilling the right to ‘legal identity for all by 2030’, 2021 has seen a refresh of the globally-recognised Principles of Identification for Sustainable Development – initially co-developed in 2017 and endorsed by the GSMA’s Digital Identity Programme and the World Bank Group’s Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative as well as more than 28 other global organisations.

An increasing number of countries have since used the Principles to design new ID systems or reform existing ones. In Nigeria, for example, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has used the Principles to shape its Strategic Roadmap to reform and improve the national ID system. This includes plans to address many of the current challenges that people face to registration (e.g., removing legal barriers related to eligibility and reducing documentation requirements) and implement global standards for data privacy, including through the adoption of new data protection law and minimising data collection. Importantly, the Nigerian Government has licensed the Mobile Network Operators to act as official enrolment agents in enrolling millions of eligible persons into the new National (digital) Identity database. This development reflects the recognition that MNOs’ nationwide retail presence and expertise in dealing with consumers and their data, positions them as ideal Government partners to support a more inclusive, accessible and robust national ID ecosystem.

The GSMA Digital Identity programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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