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Unlocking a $15 billion Digital ID Opportunity in Canada; Interview with Azim Esmail, ATB Ventures’ Head of Growth and Partnerships.

Trust & the Evolution of Digital Identity in Canada

Oliu by ATB Ventures published an infographic showcasing Canada’s digital maturity at both the provincial and federal level. The “Trust & the Evolution of Digital Identity in Canada” infographic provides insight on how a digital identity ecosystem has the potential to generate $15 billion in economic growth and innovation in Canada. It also highlights how digital identity is an opportunity to drive transformational growth for citizens, businesses and public administrations, and the impact of identity fraud and data breaches. 

In this interview with TechBullion, ATB Ventures’ Head of Growth and Partnerships, Azim Esmail, will discuss the digital identity revolution and how Oliu contributes to creating a secure and inclusive digital future for all Canadians.

Please tell us a little more about yourself?

I am the head of Growth & Partnerships for ATB Ventures’ digital identity suite of products. On a regular basis, I collaborate with world-class entrepreneurs, technologists, and data scientists to build and launch meaningful products that advance humanity and enhance trust in the quickly evolving digital economy. Prior to ATB Ventures, I was the founder and CEO of RewardOps. I live in Ontario with my wife, newborn son, and French bulldog, Winnie.

Tell us more about Oliu and ATB Ventures. What unique solutions do you provide at Oliu and what inspired your company’s interests in digital identity?

ATB Ventures is the research and innovation arm of leading Alberta-based financial institution ATB Financial. Driving growth at the edges and exploring opportunities beyond financial services, ATB Ventures focuses on helping companies bridge the gap between consumers’ increasing concerns about privacy and security and their desire for more advanced personalized experiences.

Oliu is our latest product release, and it is a blockchain-identity management solution that makes it easy for businesses to issue, manage and verify customer credentials digitally. It’s built on open (W3C) standards and leverages identity frameworks such as the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF) and National Trust and Identity Fundamentals to make mobility and interoperability between identity systems possible.

What is digital identity, how does it work and why is it important? Could you explain it to us in a way we will understand?

Digital identity creates a one-to-one relationship between a person and their digital presence. This might make you ask: Isn’t that how it is now? No, it’s not. Currently, most people’s personal information is shared with hundreds if not thousands of institutions online. With this structure, people don’t know who has access to their data or how it is being used. It’s a broader relationship than most people understand.

What’s different about digital identity is that it reduces access to a person’s information, ensuring that they—the individual—are the sole decision maker in how that information is used. Digital identity is a verified and authenticated way to prove who you are online in a secure manner, with protections and safeguards in place that ensure the information is not stolen. Digital identity is all about making it possible for people to participate in the online world but in a safe and secure way.

Could you give us an insight into the digital identity revolution in Canada and what is fueling this trend?

Digital identity has been a topic of interest in Canada for more than two decades, but the movement has picked up momentum since the pandemic. I think this is largely because we realized, one, how much we need a secure, digital channel to manage sensitive information, and, two, that our existing systems did not support this. One example is that brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to become online businesses practically overnight, simply to survive.

Another part of the equation is that identity fraud has been on the rise, and it can no longer be ignored. People need solutions now, and there is a real need for change in how personal information is tracked, managed, and regulated. 

Enlighten us more on how a digital identity ecosystem has the potential to generate $15 billion in economic growth and innovation in Canada?

The need for safer personal information management is a key driver for the innovation and growth we will see in the digital identity sector. There’s a measurable demand for solutions, which has created a new market for entrepreneurship. Consumers need tools for creating, verifying, and using digital identities; entrepreneurs are already on this.

And the digital identity market has a number of positive factors in addition to meeting the needs for identity management. Digital identity technology can be a huge cost saver for individuals and businesses because it will remove the antiquated, labor-intensive, paper-based processes that people must complete in person and streamline them for the digital space. And by making those experiences digital, the digital identity market has the power to create greater access to goods and services which will, in turn, create more inclusive experiences.

Is Digital identity an opportunity to drive transformational growth for citizens, businesses and public administrations. If yes, how so?

Absolutely. I believe we will see digital identity as a transformative change in multiple sectors, both public and private. It has the power to make our digital world more inclusive and accessible for a wider variety of people. Much of the change will need to begin in the public sector to pave the way for further innovation. We’re already seeing this at work, too. Many provinces in Canada have invested in digital ID technology and are building systems around it.

Could you give us some statistics on the global and national impacts of identity fraud and data breaches currently?

Last year’s numbers were incredibly overwhelming. In Canada alone, there was a 40% increase in fraud from the previous year. In just one year, fraud nearly doubled—equivalent to $531 million in losses.

What must be done to enable the huge economic growth and transformational change that can be generated by a digital identity ecosystem in Canada?

At this time, we need a groundswell of innovators and entrepreneurs to demonstrate the market’s potential. We need innovators to begin developing products and exploring opportunities within the space so that we can see the industry move forward. It’s really a bottom-up approach: Businesses (entrepreneurs) need to create utility and value so that citizens can reap the benefits of the technology, which will drive widespread adoption.

Of course, we need an infrastructure in place to enable private and public organizations to create verified identity credentials so that there is an ecosystem for digital identity to exist within. Another critical need for digital identity to be adopted is education. People need to understand the opportunities available because of digital identity as well as the risks and how those risks are being mitigated.

Could you give us some use cases and success stories on these advances in digital maturity and digital identity infrastructure in Canada?

Air Canada, which just came out with facial recognition for airports, is a good example. What this recent launch shows us is how people want to use and are happy to use technology when it improves the experience. People might balk at the idea of facial recognition without context, but within the context of stressful airport situations—where people are often crunched for time or waiting in endless lines—they are more amenable to the idea. This process is showing us that the tech systems and digital identity infrastructure we devise must be tied to a clear, measurable benefit that solves a widespread challenge or problem. This is how it will be successful.

How is Oliu contributing to creating a secure and inclusive digital future for all Canadians? Do you have more tips to share with our readers on digital identity?

Oliu is creating a basis for digital identity in both the private and public sectors. We are building an underlying infrastructure that makes it possible for every type of user in every type of organization to get the benefits of digital identity: verifying and managing digital credentials. Because our technology serves both sectors, public and private, we are making sure that the path forward to digital identity is accessible to a wide range of participants and that it is more inclusive.

Additionally, part of creating that secure and inclusive digital future for Canadians is creating a safe and secure digital wallet that people need to manage their credentials. Oliu meets that essential need.

My best tip, or call to action, in the digital identity space is to focus on education. As individuals, we need to educate ourselves about how our information is used and what that means. But, collectively, across organizations and governing bodies, there needs to be access to education so that citizens can understand the nuances of digital identity and why the technology is essential for them.

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