Category Forum
KNOW Identity San Francisco Forum

Banks, Telcos, Governments, Big Tech: these are the usual suspects digital identity professionals debate when considering who will solve digital identity. On one side, people believe digital identity challenges will be solved by one provider, and others believe it will take a group effort to build a marketplace where trusted identities can be used ubiquitously across platforms. Either way you fall on the issue, we can all agree that building more robust digital identity platforms and ecosystems must happen. 

The KNOW Identity Forum roadshow was back in San Francisco on September 17th to discuss the future of digital identity platforms. Check out our previous San Francisco Forum here. In partnership with our good friends Uniken, the evening featured an insightful live recording of the State of Identity podcast and a very lively panel discussing the Future of Digital Identity Platforms. Here are our key takeaways from the evening. 

“Signatures get better when identities get better.”

We kicked off the evening with Ryan Cox, VP of Strategic Partnerships at DocuSign. He talked about his professional journey into digital identity, the trade-off between security and user experience, and how DocuSign’s current market positioning puts them in an ideal space to expand their digital identity offerings. 

DocuSign, founded in 2003, made a name for itself by owning over 70% of the electronic signature (e-signature) market. Bringing contracting online is a difficult challenge. Ryan explained that the sole focus of the company has been on product and user experience. Yet, as digital identity becomes more prominent, that approach is no longer sustainable. 

A signature validates an agreement between two or more parties. As an e-signature platform, the onus is on DocuSign to properly authenticate any party that is signing a document electronically and securely communicate agreements. The cornerstone of these challenges is identity. Moreover, the dynamic governance of e-signatures, changing regulatory landscapes at the local level, evolving client demands, and new fraud factors are pushing DocuSign to dive deeper into identity. 

For DocuSign, the ecosystem approach is a critical component to their go-to-market strategy. Ryan frequently mentioned partnerships with local providers, like their acquisition of SpringCM to help with document management and storage, as an effective means of tackling identity challenges.

Ryan left us looking into his crystal ball and offering several thought-provoking predictions. First, he sees a pattern in digital identity systems being built off of analog backbones. 

Second, he predicts that banks will win the digital identity race. He suggested the obvious front runner is governments, who have the utility, resources, and infrastructure for physical documentation; however, he doesn’t believe governments will be able to effectively translate those skills to deploy digital identities. Instead, DocuSign is taking a strategic bet that banks are well-positioned to win the day. 

“Things are getting worse, and we are patting ourselves on the back. We need to get smarter.”

Our expert panel consisted of David Birch, Author and Director of Innovation at Consult Hyperion, Ross Hobbie, Product Manager at Google, and Carlo Capello, Strategic Partnerships at Early Warning. 

Dave Birch set the stage with an emboldened soliloquy on who he believes are the top contenders to solve the digital identity problem: banks, governments, or a wild card.

Dave quickly wrote off financial institutions from consideration: “If they were going to do something, they would have done it already.” He has a point. The banks have promised to bring a solution to the marketplace for over fifteen years. It isn’t promising, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Carlo Capello representing Early Warning, a group fully owned by the seven largest banks, insisted that there was still plenty of opportunities for the banks to execute.

Birch was lukewarm on governments. He used examples of Aadhaar in India, eID in Estonia, Indonesia, Nigeria, where governments have launched national identity schemes. Ross Hobbie reminded the audience that these national programs have experienced varying levels of success with high-profile issues happening with Aadhaar, Indonesia, and many more. Additionally, Ross noted that regulators are notoriously rigid and trying to change legislation is a fool’s errand. 

Out of the leading contenders, Dave seemed most keen to think that Facebook’s recently announced Libra could be the best bet. He argued that digital identity shouldn’t focus on knowing as much as you can about one person, but digital identity should focus on knowing enough about many people to draw inferences on relationships. This “social map” is less intensive, but potentially more effective, form of identity proofing. And who is better positioned to map a network of people than Facebook? 

Dave continued with a double-down on Facebook being either the solution or catalyst to change that would help us compete on the world stage.

“If Americans are stupid they will do nothing, if they are smart they will follow the Chinese and the hegemony of apps. Super apps, and ultimately a single currency.”

He is alluding to the popularity of “mega apps” of Southeast Asia, such as Go-Jek and Grab which are one-stop-shops for ride sharing, ecommerce, identity wallets, etc. He believes these apps will soon incorporate a national cryptocurrency and identity.

It is time to build. That was my major takeaway after listening to an evening of career professionals discussing the merits of different institutional leaders. We ended the evening with a call to all operators, product managers, executives, and regulators that the race is on and everyone has a chance to win. The longer we wait to build more effective identity products, the more people suffer from poor identity practices.

What’s coming next

Many thanks to the speakers and attendees who participated in the San Francisco KNOW Identity Forum! We’re looking forward to continuing conversations like these at our next Forum in New York City on October 17 and at upcoming events in Mexico City, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle and more. The KNOW roadshow culminates in the annual KNOW Identity Conference in April 2020. We hope to see you there!