Digital ID Will Be A Cornerstone Of Tech-Led UK Productivity

Digital identity is a crucial foundation to build the services of the future.

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Digital identity is a crucial foundation to build the services of the future.


Digital ID Will Be A Cornerstone Of Tech-Led UK Productivity

Digital identity is a crucial foundation to build the services of the future.

Share this article

Digital identity has struggled to take off in the UK. Governments have tried, unsuccessfully, to propose centralised schemes, and industry has not ambitiously outlined the value to the public, either.

Yet the truth is that we now live in a digital-first world where our identity, or representative tokens, are used multiple times a day. Where if authentication doesn’t happen smoothly, it causes friction and impairs productivity.

Identity authentication is required for almost everything, from social media, work systems, banking, international travel, council and central government services, to paying friends or merchants. Effective identity verification, as part of proving legitimacy, and security, is everything - a critical enabler of our anywhere digital economy and of the seamless, frictionless everyday experiences we expect.

But right now, we exist in a dizzying maze of largely outdated digital identity verification systems. Other countries including Estonia, France, or India, have created strong, simple digital identity schemes to solve their pressing challenges, simplify citizen’s lives, and save time and resources across many daily interactions.

Despite a national programme being proposed by former rival political leaders Tony Blair and William Hague in February 2023, aimed at accelerating the growth of the digital economy, the debate around a government-mandated ID system remains a fraught one.

In a paperless society, digitally verified identification offers more options for productivity

Other nations are making good headway in driving forward digitally verified identification schemes. France’s identité numérique La Poste allows access to publicly managed services, saving time and increasing security.

India’s Aadhaar biometric identity scheme is connected via a stack of official APIs and an identity layer allied to a payment and a data layer - meaning users can access and share official documents digitally with simplicity and ease.

Estonia boasts one of the world’s longest-running and most successful identity verification programmes. All citizens use it to shop, pay bills, vote, sign contracts, manage their health, and so on.

However, in the UK, identity verification is mainly reliant on a level of physical checks such as witnessing in person, sharing paper copies, or requirements for professionals to authenticate a copy.

With the global economy increasingly digital, paperless, and near-instant, the UK is conspicuously behind the curve - particularly with its legal professionals bound to paper-based processes due to law code ambiguity on digital tools. Investment into new digital identity verification pathways can strip out friction and increase the speed, productivity, and security of a business. Not to mention, eliciting significant time and cost benefits.

Home-buying and conveyancing is a prime example of a system that remains overly reliant on manual systems and processes. Regulations for Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering necessitate the need to prove identity and legally sign documents in a robust and time-critical manner.

But according to new research, manual traditional processes mean the UK economy loses around 360,000 hours of productivity every month due to the compulsory in-person activities in home selling and conveyancing. These include validating identification at the post office or signing contracts with a solicitor.

This research, carried out by Censuswide for OneID and DocuSign, found that the average house buyer loses almost five hours of time out of their day completing conveyancing tasks in person. That equates to a staggering number of hours lost to manual processes.

The study, surveying over 1,000 UK adults who had purchased a house in the previous three years, found that 64 percent had to sign physical legal documents, and 57 percent also had to physically hand over these to solicitors or visit a notary as part of the process. Over half (57%) had to validate their identity and address in person, and 49 percent had to have a witness countersign contracts in person, too.

Critically, these figures have emerged despite HM Land Registry introducing a standard for digital ID verification two years ago and - more recently - a standard for electronic signatures. Two major banking providers, NatWest and Lloyds Banking groups, together serving 40 million UK consumers, offer document verification via existing bank login credentials when signing.

Consumers shouldn’t need to be jumping over manual hurdles when multiple digital pathways already exist. Both the public sector and major institutions have the technical capabilities and reach to digitally transform verification processes for much of the country.

Beyond the home-buying example, there are similar requirements in banking and payments, accessing public services and benefits, checking tax status, voting - and of course signing contracts. If home-buying alone could cut hundreds of thousands of wasted hours from its processes, then creating digital efficiency across all domains where identity is required could meaningfully impact UK GDP.

But the benefits don’t start and end with productivity. With more than 80 million tonnes of paper still produced in Europe every year, the environmental impetus for business and industry to digitise administrative processes is clear.

Reducing paper consumption in day-to-day business administration supports the protection and restoration of the natural environment (forests and water), combats waste and provides immediate reductions to CO2 emissions across the value chain.

There are also major cost savings, too. For example, bank-verified data can already be shared securely, cutting back on the need for data to be verified by every organisation in a transaction. There are schemes offering this service that can help lower business costs, costs to the consumer, and speed up transactions.

Existing schemes are compliant to national regulations, meeting standards for privacy and data protection, and designed to prevent fraud and cybercrime.

This is business-critical. One major driver for digital identity verification is to stay cyber-secure when almost all interactions with banking and business services are now encouraged online. Neither consumers nor businesses want their access to assets denied or stolen. Improving the UK’s identity process can bring down the impact of cybercrime, with all the productivity gains that would entail.

With an estimated £4bn lost to cybercrime in the last year, the security argument alone is compelling. However, consumers may put more immediate value on the time they could be spending more profitably and enjoyably away from paperwork and queues.

All these positive factors create a major economic and climate resiliency argument for the removal of manual, paper-based processes from UK public and private sector organisations. The pandemic proved that digital software supports flexible work and enabled organisations to better respond to working and economic challenges. Pushing this digital transformation onward through agreement and contract management lifecycles would boost productivity for all sectors of the economy - as well as maintaining workflows during unprecedented events.

A better digital future, based on proven pathways

The UK’s lower productivity results from processes built well before the digital revolution. Prudence often slows the adoption of new technologies, but organisations like the Land Registry have set standards and guidelines for proven digital identity verification that have not been taken up, despite supporting banking services from various providers.

Demonstrably successful examples from other nations offer a path to higher digital productivity. Reforming the UK’s manual approaches and digital identity verification processes could send a shockwave of vital energy through the UK economy.

In short, without improvements to existing, manual processes from a digital identity solution, the UK is stuck - one of the least productive advanced nations, placing burdens on consumers, citizens, and workers that could be alleviated with solutions already proposed by government departments like the Land Registry.

Other parts of the world have created a truly digital business landscape and enjoy the time saving, and productivity benefits. If the UK is to be a technology leader, identity is a crucial foundation to build the services of the future on top of.

Ronan Copeland, Group VP and General Manager, EMEA, at DocuSign

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Digital ID Will Be A Cornerstone Of Tech-Led UK Productivity

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