Biometrics: The journey to simpler ID verification


Ground down by life’s admin? Biometrics provide the key to simpler ID verification, argues Matt Law, chief technology officer at Contego.

Why is it so hard to open a new bank account?

In our digitally enabled, mass connected age you can apply for a mortgage on your phone, have your fridge order your shopping while you are at work, buy a car from your computer – having taken it for virtual test drive – or even buy a computer from your car.

Yet when it comes to switching bank accounts, you still need to haul yourself down to a high street bank just to confirm your identity.

There are many occasions when we are still tied to producing a number of paper-based documents, such as a passport, driving licence, utility bill, or – as is often the case – all three.

For most of us, this represents a frustrating inconvenience, but for small businesses it can be excessively disruptive and costly.

Opening a new business bank account can take two months, and sometimes longer.

The archaic process means as few as ten percent of businesses who start the application process actually complete it.

The main problem is that we are being held back by a disconnected and dysfunctional verification process.

At present, ID and background checks are not shared between organisations, so a bank cannot disclose the fact that it has verified you with another organisation. In our seamless age of real-time information, there must be an easier way.

Progress in the field

Recent advances in biometrics, the analysis of physical characteristics unique to an individual, promise to hold the key to faster ID checks and ultimately, a more seamless and speedy process when opening a bank account.

We know that biometrics provide an efficient and effective way to improve ID verification thanks to the unique nature of an individual’s physical identifiers, such as a fingerprint. A driving licence can be forged, but biometric data is not so easily duped.

Biometric passports, commonly called e-passports, have been in the UK for the last ten years. They have proved to be so successful at improving speed, accuracy and efficiency across border controls that Heathrow recently dropped retina scanning altogether.

Many of the world’s largest technology companies, including Facebook and Google, have started to use facial recognition, the computer application capable of verifying a person from a digital image or a video frame, to enhance their platforms experience by tagging and grouping photos.

If biometric passports are used to process the ever-growing number of travellers – in a world where security has never been more pressing – and you can access all your personal information on your phone with your fingerprint, why do we have to repeatedly prove our identity to open a bank account?

Moving in the right direction

A UK government initiative, GOV.UK Verify, is calling for a more open, secure sharing of data which will make it easier for individuals to prove their identities online.

Under the scheme, individuals will be able to choose a government-certified provider to check and verify their identity. This will only need to be done once and that verification will then be shared when required.

As biometrics evolve, we could see DNA fingerprinting, the ultimate unique identifier being used to immediately sequence an individual based on their DNA fingerprint.

The more we use DNA fingerprinting the more valuable it will become, so it needs to be flexible enough to adapt and change very quickly if compromised.

There are companies who are looking at the possibility of having an online cloud-based ID. Again, protecting this ID needs to be scrutinised, the methods of verification need to be easily interchangeable to different biometrics, for example from cloud-based online ID to DNA fingerprinting.

We are currently seeing the first wave of platforms that are designed to handle complex, multi-source fraud detection checks for individuals and companies.

In the future,these checks will only have to be completed once, and then can be shared between organisations, negating the need for people to repeatedly have their identity and backgrounds scrutinised. The process is as simple as a fingerprint scan, or submitting a selfie.

As biometrics evolve, there is no reason why DNA fingerprinting could not be used to immediately sequence an individual.

When shared with a trusted source of verification, it could enable personal ID records to be updated in real time.

Life could become much easier: from unlocking your car to joining a new company, or even just opening a bank account.

If you’re interested in reading more about biometrics check out edition 9 of our popular tech magazine which focused on the topic of cybersecurity.