Identity services – the growing opportunity for postal operators

Verifying identity is a crucial part of day-to-day life and something that I suspect we all take very much for granted unless or until we encounter some difficulty, issue or challenge As consumers throughout our lives our individual identity (and proving that we are who we say we are) are the key to establishing our eligibility for or gaining access to what we want or need.  With the growth in options for ways of doing business and communicating across the world there is an almost constant need to demonstrate and assure people or use systems to validate our identity.  The rise in identity theft and online fraud is another key driver.

Postal providers throughout the world have a longstanding history and track record in delivering face-to-face services to consumers that confirm their entitlement to receive certain services according to specific criteria.  This may be purely in the form of a signed receipt for delivery of an item to an individual at a given destination.  For the sending and receiving customer this has to be simple and convenient.  For the service provider even overt simplicity for the customer has to be underpinned by a set of business rules or specifications to assure the service.

More often in the postal world personal identity validation has been most readily associated with the opportunities available for offering service provision to those customers visiting post offices.  In this face-to-face setting there is the opportunity to harness the knowledge and skills of well trained staff, supported by technology, to deliver a wide range of identity-related products and services successfully.

Many postal organisations have been able and continue to secure business as a trusted partner providing services to customers in the community on behalf of government departments. The link between the individual and state generally requiring some form of ID and checking or validation in terms of entitlement and eligibility carried out in Post Offices in localities.

It is interesting to see how New Zealand Post plans to introduce the RealMe electronic identity service (see news item below).  Consumers are encouraged to sign up for the service by going to their local post office branch with identification and have their photograph taken for the system.  Once verified, users will be able to login to access a range of government services, like census, benefits, passport renewals and registering to vote.  In the longer term it is hoped that private businesses will be able to offer RealMe as a login option.  However, questions about personal data protection do not seem to have been answered.

There are ID requirements linked to other types of services provided via Posts either on their own behalf or as an agent.  For example, many Posts are providers of financial services – trust and assurance being an essential feature of successful service and customer confidence in this market.  Customer access to financial services via Posts has been greatly improved and enabled in recent years, but when it comes to personal banking or access to cash, for example, given volatility in global economies, issues such as identity validation and fraud minimisation are critical.

Other ID services support the payment in cash of state pensions or benefits, as well as receipt of e-commerce purchases. In all cases ensuring that the correct person gets what they need is vital.

Deutsche Post, for example, offers a range of ID services, designed to meet a variety of customer requirements (business and consumer) making each available via different access channels to maximise convenience for the service user.  Its POSTIDENT BASIC is specifically designed to provide secure identification of retail customers in local post office branches, by checking ID cards and collecting signatures on behalf of financial services companies or online retailers.  This service complies with the provisions of the Money Laundering Act.  It also meets a growing need for fraud prevention in the B2C e-commerce market.  (Further information is available here: http://www.deutschepost.de/dpag?tab=1&skin=hi&check=yes&lang=de_EN&xmlFile=1016309)

Through its subsidiary, SwissSign, Swiss Post has a well developed business specialising in e-security and e-identity services, including digital signatures, secure electronic mail boxes and electronic internet identity.  Its SwissID product establishes the legal and technical prerequisites for digital business processes and was originally conceived as a tool to speed up e-commerce transactions.  However, SwissID also serves the national government’s strategy for greater e-government services and communications.

A number of Posts issue official government documents and papers.  This can include the right to travel, work or in some way confirm entitlement and access to other benefits.  Poste Italiane, for example, issues birth certificates, resident permits, passport renewal paperwork and provides access to land registry searches.

It is increasingly the case that the product owner, who may be, for example, a government department, and the Post will have worked hard to ensure that as far as possible all of the requirements linked to ID can be seamlessly facilitated by technology as far as practical, so that the customer can choose a convenient means of access channel to carry out their business transaction when and how they want.

So whether through personal service online or at a terminal there will be an underlying set of ID rules which apply and in each case these are reliant upon the customer to self-serve or enter details against a set of parameters, which they have, to an extent, pre-determined via a series of chosen usernames, passwords, questions etc.

Surely this is the point of greatest risk?  In the past one had to take documents to the point of validation, which may get lost, but increasingly now we have to remember or recall things and the frailty of human memory gets put to the test.  It must be a continual challenge to those involved in developing and designing the systems and protocols for use by both customers and staff, given the growing prevalence of identity fraud as well as the obstacles posed by human memory and behaviour.

Most of this work is transparent to the customer who just wants to be able to do what they want when and how with minimum fuss, maximum reliability and ultimately have the confidence that information being provided and shared is necessary, used appropriately and their personal security remains uncompromised.

Isn’t it the case that when carrying out a vital transaction involving ID this may be the very point at which you may need to seek guidance and support?

We know from feedback and results around the world, that this is where the added value service available via skilled staff in post office networks in communities has proved effective in delivering results for both the customer and the product owner.  As we monitor the expansion of products in Posts and the design of the transactions for consumers, it will be interesting to see and learn of ever more innovative ways to meet the challenge of ID validation and assurance cost effectively and securely.

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