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In the digital age, printed proof of identity is ludicrous

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I remember being involved in a business process re-engineering project for an insurance firm some years ago.  We looked at how the underwriting process worked on complex insurance risks and discovered that in the middle of the process, the documentation would move to the overseas desk.  It would sit there for a day or two, and then get picked up and moved along.  What surprised me is that the documentation went to this desk, whether the insurable risk was domestic or overseas, sometimes adding three or four days to the process.  This was dumb if the risk was domestic, as the documentation literally was picked up from the in-tray and placed in the out-tray.  When challenged on the process, the reaction was: oh, but we’ve always done it this way.

Hmmm.  That’s the challenge we all have.  Why do you clean your teeth before breakfast?  Because I always have. But then you eat and get your teeth dirty again for the rest of the day.  It’s totally ineffective.  Yes, but it’s my process.

I only raise this as it amused me to read a story about one of the world’s best banks: DBS.  Sorry to name and shame, but the story illustrates what happens to all of us when dealing with a bank process that’s always been done this way: account opening.

My good mate Scott Bales updated Facebook as follows:

This led to lots of comments and reactions, and the story unfolded that Scott needed to print his American Express statement outside the branch and bring it back. He couldn’t print this inside the branch as all email and printing is for 'internal' use only.  Scott had to go to next door to print the document and then bring it back so that DBS can send it to their imaging facility, where a piece of paper will be scanned and digitally stored.

The claim is that the Monetary Authority of Singapore insist on seeing an original document as proof of identity, but (a) how is a printed piece of paper considered original, and (b) there is no such requirement under Singapore law. It was just a process habit in branch.

What followed is lots of people saying they had the same experience with their bank, and I also recently had a similar experience.

In my case, it was going to a government office where my partner needed to prove her identity.  She had her passport, driving licence and a letter from the bank, but this was not good enough.  The government officer insisted that he must see a document – utility bill or bank statement – with her name and address on it.  She didn’t have such a document.  I pay the utility bills in my name only and she gets all her bank statements electronically, as it’s more energy efficient.

Eventually, we had to go to her bank branch and get them to print a document affirming her name and address which, as it turned out, was acceptable to the government office.

Ridiculous.  In fact, it’s ludicrous when so many millennials live in an age of digitalisation that their identity no longer exists on paper at all.  It’s all on the net.  In the digital age of electronic statements, asking for printed proof of name and address is just a process that exists because we’ve always done it that way.


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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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