The first recorded use of the word identity in English was in 1545, by a rather controversial Churchman named John Bale – or, to those unfortunate enough to have quarrelled with him, ‘bilious Bale’.
Back in the 16th Century however, ‘ydemptyte’ referred to “sameness, oneness, [the] state of being the same” – a far cry from our modern day focus on identity as something unique to each and every individual.
The etymology of the word identification follows a similar story, with its early usage in the 1640s meaning the “treating of a thing as the same as another; [the] act of making or proving to be the same”. Now, identification commonly refers to the documents we use to prove our uniqueness; acting as a verifiers of our individual identities.
It may then come as a surprise to learn that the first identity document to be enshrined into law appeared significantly earlier, outlined by Henry V in the Safe Conducts Act of 1414. The Act outlined what was effectively the first-ever passport, granting the individual in question with a guarantee of safe passage by making it an act of treason to impede them.
Whilst modern passports still quite literally guarantee safe passage across borders, it’s our identities themselves (or should we say the ability to verify those identities) which now grant us safe passage through the strange new world we find ourselves in. Without a verifiable identity, a person can’t open a bank account; access credit; buy age-restricted goods; access and benefit from government services, healthcare, or education; vote, or be protected by the judicial system. In short, they’re blocked from both society and their basic human rights.
There’s a huge number of reasons an individual may not be able to verify their identity – they may have lost their documents (or they may have avoided the issue of those documents in the first place) fleeing war or persecution. Access to identity documents may be restricted due to poverty or gender, or there may not be a standardised document to access in the first place. Increasingly however, age is playing a major role – and not in the way you might initially think.
The youth of today live in a very different world to the one their parents grew up in. More and more aren’t able to leave home, and for longer, than in previous generations. As we discussed in a recent blog about the barriers young players face when signing up with gaming operators, the UK has seen a 46% increase in 20-34 year olds living at home over the last two decades. And, rather insidiously, this may be taking away the traditional data they need to prove their identities.
Living at home means that many don’t pay their own utility bills, or have mortgages. Often the only bill they will pay for is their mobile phone, which isn’t usually accepted as part of verification processes. Even for younger people who have been fortunate enough to be able to fly the nest, many rent rather than buy and often only have one member of the household appearing on their bills. Many city dwellers have never needed to learn to drive, whilst others have never had the financial freedom to apply for a passport and travel. Even in the cases where someone does have the bills and documentation they need, our online world means they may not have any paper copies to prove it.
Our changing world, and changing identities, need verification methods than change with them. Laborious manual processes are acting as onboarding barriers, delaying and even preventing users from accessing vital services. Digital, automated onboarding has the power to change this – not only because it reduces document verification to minutes or seconds rather than weeks, but because it allows other, less traditional, sources of data to be used.
49% of the world’s population uses social media, and the majority of users fall into younger age groups: in 2018, 94% of British 16-24 year olds and 92% of 25-34 year olds had a social media profile. When further data is required during the onboarding process, an individual can consensually link their social profile and provide the information they need to verify that they are who they say they are. Not only does social media data act as a powerful verification tool, it provides unparalleled insights into an individual’s likes and preferences – allowing you to tailor your interactions with them and boost satisfaction and retention rates.
Of all UK adults, 18-24 year olds rate themselves as the least confident about managing their money and financial matters. They’re also the least satisfied with their financial circumstances, and only 30% have confidence in the UK financial services industry. If onboarding processes and KYC checks were kinder to those of us without traditional data footprints, we could see a dramatic change in how younger people are able participate in both financial services and wider society.
Fill in your details below to download At Your Convenience. In this paper, in partnership with YouGov, we explore consumer attitudes towards the use of social data for online Identity Verification.