Mar 19, 2020 in Guest Blogs, Members by DIACC

Digital Identity Offers a Business Continuity Roadmap to Reduce the Impact of COVID-19 in Canada

by Matthew Unger, CEO, iComply

For most Canadians today, physical human interaction is required to complete most major financial transactions. Many of Canada’s largest banks, insurance companies, real estate agencies, mortgage brokers, credit unions, and financial advisors may not be able to offer an alternative to face-to-face meetings, physical paperwork, or agents who move quickly from one in-person meeting to the next.

We are currently in a very interesting time in history. In the past month, governments have announced over $1T USD in economic stimuli, the U.S. Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to zero, reported cases of COVID-19 are multiplying 10X every two weeks, and the stock market saw the worst single-day decline since Black Monday in 1987. Economically speaking, the last thing we can afford to do as a society is to stop working.

Many industries have not yet overcome barriers such as processes driven by legacy systems and are still doing business primarily in face-to-face channels. However, the rise of COVID-19 is causing a global shift in mindsets towards social distancing, remote work, and web conferencing. Previously, industries that relied on armies of agents, advisors, or consultants to conduct business—now, many of these businesses are seeking to fast-track their digital transformation in order to survive.

Yet, for many businesses, the challenge of changing their ways is real. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers still physically attend meetings—which increases their own risk of exposure, not to mention that of their clients. In only a matter of weeks, the agents on the front lines in these industries are experiencing a new trend—the same clients who used to value in-person meetings no longer want to meet. Clients know their agent runs a busy schedule with dozens of meetings every week—long enough to be contagious without showing symptoms.

“By leveraging tools such as digital identity verification, digital signatures, liveness detection, and ongoing user authentication, Canada’s professional and financial service providers can do a lot to make a difference.”

– Matthew Unger

Businesses are starting to take action – closing their doors to mitigate COVID-19, at the expense of their own bottom line. Last week, firms such as HSBC in New York closed their offices to all events or external meetings. Financial service providers in Canada have prioritized the wellbeing of their staff and clients to minimize the spread of the outbreak. However, based on their size and complexity, many traditional institutions have found it cost-prohibitive or risky to completely migrate over to digital-first systems. As a result, many still lack resources needed to effectively roll out digital onboarding—much less ongoing user identity authentication.

Medical experts anticipate that COVID-19 will continue its rapid global spread, and Health Canada has recommended a number of community-based measures. While potential vaccines have been reported, they are not expected to reach the market for up to a year. It is likely that such precautions will have a major impact on any business that relies on face-to-face meetings. Clients will refuse meetings in favour of online calls, digital onboarding, and digital document signing.

How will you buy your next home? Secure your next mortgage? Open a bank account? In the event a Canadian needs to settle the estate of a loved one, how will self-isolation be handled for elderly counter-signatories and meetings with family tax and estate professionals?

Many back-office administration teams in Canada have already moved to remote work or rotating their teams for one week onsite, one week offsite. Should containment measures increase, this will not be enough. Instead, back-office and compliance teams will need to be able to securely complete their tasks offsite while working from home.

While health care professionals and healthtech companies are working around the clock to solve this global crisis, we should consider our own daily routines, both personally and professionally, to identify how we can make a positive change for the benefits of our clients’ privacy, security, and—with concerns surrounding COVID-19—even their personal wellbeing.

The traditional ‘wet signature’ meeting culture in the financial industry requires a change in both mindset and in the adoption of technology. By leveraging tools such as digital identity verification, digital signatures, liveness detection, and ongoing user authentication, Canada’s professional and financial service providers can do a lot to make a difference.

About the Author
Matthew Unger is founder and CEO of iComply. After founding a $42M wealth management practice, Matthew exited by age 26 and co-founded a practice management platform for wealth managers which was acquired by Planswell in 2015. Matthew has studied Digital Transformation and Business Strategy in Finance at MIT and is a global expert in digital identity, KYC and AML regulation.