API Security & Identity

4 ways Singapore uses digital identity to create seamless services

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Kendrick Lee, Director, National Digital Identity at GovTech shared the impact of the SingPass project.

Imagine trying to get dressed for the day – only your jeans, socks and shoes are locked away in different drawers around the house.

Interacting with online services can be a bit like that, with each new account needing its own platform and password. Digital identity would be the master key that can unlock all of those drawers, and bring all its contents and services into one shared space, Singapore believes.

It plans to use SingPass, its national digital identity programme, to help governments and businesses launch seamless digital services. Kendrick Lee, Director of National Digital Identity at GovTech, shared how it has transformed the way citizens transact online at last month’s Apidays conference.

1. Open banking

Singapore has used its digital identity system to create a one-stop banking portal for citizens. Once Singpass-authorised, citizens can pool all of their financial data, including account balances, credit cards, loans and investments, onto one screen, reported The Straits Times.

This will make financial planning much more of a breeze. Citizens no longer have to log into each bank and agency’s website to check their latest account information.

This platform, known as the Singapore Financial Data Exchange (SGFinDex), is “Singapore’s interpretation of open banking”, Lee said. This is the world’s first system of its kind, noted Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at its launch in December last year.

The SGFinDex platform currently links data from Singapore’s seven major banks and the Central Provident Fund Board, which oversees pensions. The Singapore Exchange’s Central Depository, where citizens manage their stocks and bonds, and major life insurance companies will be joining the ranks soon, Lee shared.

2. “Instant” services

Second, SingPass offers citizens a passwordless and secure way to access online services from both government and businesses. Users don’t have to fumble around for passcodes or remember complex amalgamations of letters, numbers and symbols for every new digital account.

This means new services, such as bank accounts, can be set up almost immediately. A study by Singapore’s Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship ranked how easy it is to open a bank account by studying the number of clicks needed. The top five banks and fintech firms all use MyInfo, which uses SingPass to fill in personal data on online forms.

“Of course, the number of clicks does not equate to good user experience. But user experience cannot be good if you have to click 50 times or more,” said Lee.

Another report found that it takes up to 36 days to open a bank account in the UK, he shared. For banks in Singapore that use MyInfo, account opening would be “instantaneous”.

SingPass doesn’t just make financial services speedier. Citizens can register for tax deductions by donating to charities through SingPass, or sign up for Apple and the Health Promotion Board’s LumiHealth app to earn fitness gamification rewards, Lee said.

SingPass makes things more convenient for private businesses as well. GetGo, a new time-based car sharing service that launched just last month, uses the tool to collect user payments sooner. “You don’t have to wait 48 hours for manual verification” of the transaction, he explained.

On a national level, SingPass has enabled new digital tools to be rolled out much faster. For instance, the SafeEntry contact tracing app took just three weeks to launch. It is used in 200,000 places all around the country, with more than 200 million transactions a month, he noted.

3. Share citizen data securely and with permission

Next, SingPass allows service providers to verify citizens’ identities reliably, securely and with permission. Businesses won’t have to copy and retain a copy of customers’ identity cards, explained Lee. Users also have to give consent every time they share personal information via SingPass.

GovTech is piloting two features to make SingPass more secure and seamless. The first is face authentication. “Everyone can use [this], including the elderly, the less digitally-savvy, and those with dry fingerprints,” he said. The latter would find fingerprint verifications a handful.

This tool is being trialled at self-service kiosks at government agencies. DBS Bank has introduced it for new sign-ups of its e-banking app, while OCBC Bank is piloting it for customers to check their account balances at ATMs.

The second feature is e-signing. GovTech is working with eight leading global and local digital signature companies, such as Adobe and DocuSign, to incorporate their services into SingPass. The Singapore Land Authority, along with property firm ERA, are now piloting the tool.

4. Secure tax filings

Finally, SingPass can make crucial government processes, such as tax filing, more secure and convenient. “For government filings, the identity of the filer is important and needs to be captured accurately,” Lee said.

SingPass authorisation allows users’ identities to be verified, so they can file directly from the third-party finance and payroll software their company uses. This makes filing taxes easier and faster.

Users previously had to export the data and upload it onto a separate system. If there were any errors, they would have to toggle between these two systems, Lee explained. “Clearly this is a huge increase in productivity and more can get done,” he added.

For Singapore, a digital identity programme is more than allowing citizens to access e-government services more easily. It is key to its vision to create a seamless online experience across both public and private services.

Image from The People’s Association’s FaceBook page.

This article originally appeared here.

Yun Xuan Poon
Yun Xuan is GovInsider’s Deputy Editor. She studied Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at Nanyang Technological University. She gets excited about doughnuts, puns and the opportunity to discover ingenuity in government at every turn. GovInsider is a team of writers, developers, government geeks, events producers and content marketers. We love working with government!

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