Money 20/20 EU: David Birch on the digital identity ‘keystone’

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During Money 20/20 Europe, Finextra sat down with David Birch, global ambassador for Consult Hyperion and non-executive director at DIGISEQ, to discuss some of the evolving trends in digital identity, and the significance of DIGISEQ’s funding news really means for the company.

Please provide some background on DIGISEQ and its latest news around funding from Rtekk. What sets DIGISEQ’s technology apart?

Choice is the future of payments. Rtekk have the view, as we do, of putting secure chips in objects. Putting a secure chip in an object is conceptually equivalent to giving that object an identity, once that object has an identity, we can link it to any number of services on the other side. Obviously payments is the focus now, because that’s what people want, but if you look at Rtekk’s investment they see it as going way beyond that.

We have a little bit of special sauce other people don’t have using remote personalisation. Normally devices have to be personalised in the factory, but if you make a small change to the way the chips are made it means we can personalise them using phones, or laptops, or ipads, whatever it might be. […] Once things have a secure identity, you can do all sorts of services.

Why is it important that we strive toward a world where the consumer has full autonomy and control over their data?

This comes down to the difference between implementing things using biometrics. For example, I walk into Waitrose, Waitrose takes my picture and they run it through some facial software, they realise it’s Dave, I buy some stuff. That all works. But identification has danger. You don’t have to be paranoid to be worried about surveillance and hacking. In world where you have something like a ring with a secure chip, that’s different. I think it’s giving customers that control.

Giving customers control I see very positively. I understand there is some convenience benefits in not having anything and just walking in and having a face scanner, but there’s a lot of negatives. This includes one of my favourite stories from the South China Morning Post, about a woman who got a nose job and could no longer get into her bank account!

What are the payments trends that you are bearish on at the moment?

I think the main short term one is instant payments. If I can securely authenticate you as a retailer, you can see why it’s very tempting to just go through instant payments instead of existing systems. So having secure chips to front-end these transaction is really rather interesting. I would go a bit further and say it is surprising that retailers haven’t moved a bit quicker in this area.

How will we see digital identity evolve over the next 12 months? Would you say digital identity is the keystone for the future of payments?

Without a shadow of a doubt digital identity is a keystone. The crucial dynamic I think everyone understands is, if you have identity, if you know who everybody is, payments is just a bit of mucking about on a spreadsheet. All of the complexity of payments is to do with authentication, fraud, risk management, all of these. It’s because we don’t know who everyone is. If the identity side is sorted out, payments are easy.

As for what’s going on in the space, I think people don’t see what’s bubbling under the surface. For example, I read that Apple, Google, and Microsoft were going to support W3C FIDO authentication. I think people just really didn’t understand the implications of that, the idea that you’ll have a key ring or whatever and you’ll be able to log into anything. So Apple will accept Microsoft authentication etc. This sort of stuff is bubbling along, and I don’t think people see quite how important all is. It’s really going to change a lot.