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Why Equifax is getting into digital identity

  • Equifax is positioning itself to be more of a data company than “just a credit bureau," with the launch of a digital identity solution
  • How the digital identity ecosystem looks in 10 years is unclear, but it may come down to consumers deciding which entities they trust most with their data.
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Why Equifax is getting into digital identity

Equifax and FIS are the latest companies to put themselves forward as providers of people’s digital identities.

In doing so, Equifax is positioning itself to be “more than just a credit bureau,” according to a spokeswoman, and instead, a data and analytics company in the broader sense — and at a time when the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing the benefits and risks of using alternative data (rent payments and mobile phone bills) to evaluate individuals’ creditworthiness.

Equifax would not comment outright on its plans to use alternative data.

“The data that we as users have — the credit data, the transaction data you give to your bank — will always be the core of OnlyID,” said Kenneth Allen, svp of identity and fraud. “On top of that, we’re so data hungry to make sure we’re putting good data to use, so we’re looking at different options of data — including alternative data, because those are part of our business globally today.”

Equifax and FIS have spent the last 18 months co-creating a password-less, biometrically-enabled digital identity solution, called OnlyID, for individuals meant to reduce fraud, improve customer experiences and thereby increase consumer loyalty. The 12,000 banks and 30,000 retailers in their combined network need to opt in to the OnlyID Network but as of now those agreements aren’t in place yet, according to Allen.

Once they opt in, customers will be able to verify that they are who they say they are by using their biometric registered with their OnlyID identity, and it will be the only identifier they need across all the organizations in that network.

Today customers engage with businesses more digitally than they did just two or three years ago. As a result, the disconnect between how they identify themselves online to how their transactions are traced back to their physical lives has become more pronounced and lowered the bar for fraudulent activity.

Traditionally, an identity is created using addresses, names, Social Security numbers — things that are more associated with the physical world. Combining that information around virtual presence, online usage and how people interact with commerce and financial institutions are what will build an accurate digital footprint, said Kim Sutherland, senior director of fraud and identity management at LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

“We’re all striving to build out an ecosystem that has the least amount of friction for consumers and the strongest assurance for organizations trusting these identities,” Sutherland said. “The actual vehicle for asserting identity — whether with a biometric or common credential — will change, but the goal is to have one that is interoperable and secure.”

OnlyID is similar to other identity efforts, like the solution Canadian banks are developing, Capital One’s digital identity API or even the centralized database of identities in India’s Aadhaar initiative — only the identity providers in those cases are the banks and the government. There are almost 200 startups tackling this problem too.

With so many solutions in the market now, how the digital identity ecosystem looks in 10 years is unclear, but it may come down to consumers deciding which entities they trust most with their data.

“We haven’t figured out what’s going to have the most adoption and comfort,” Sutherland said, citing potential solutions by different banks, mobile phone companies, the U.S. Post Office and state motor vehicle departments. “The role of who is providing identity is going to be the organization the consumer feels comfortable with handling their information.”

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