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My fictional partner

This is my wife.

She doesn’t know she’s appearing on my blog today, but it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t exist.

Well, she does physically but, according to my bank, she doesn’t exist.

I only discovered this recently, due to trying to open a new joint investment account. To open the account, the bank asked me to come in with identity documents – a passport or driving licence – and at least two utility bills showing my name and address.

That was no issue for me but, for my wife, it proved to be very difficult. First, due to having children, she had stopped travelling and her passport had expired. She has a driving licence but passed her test in Poland, her home country, and a Polish licence is not recognised by a British bank as a valid id. She doesn’t pay any utility bills and only has a bank statement in her name. However, she signed up for estatements and these are not recognised as a valid name and address bill due to being a printout and not a real statement.

Oh dear.

What do we do? My wife apparently doesn’t exist. This is not just an issue for her, but an issue for around 2.5 billion people around the world. Due to the fact that their birth was never recorded and that they haven’t needed to show any official id, they don’t exist. That’s a dream for human traffickers, as they can abduct people who don’t exist really easily. Equally, as I noted a year ago, even if you do exist it is easy to make you disappear. I just destroy your documents.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit during my travels. For example, I often go jogging on the streets of the countries I visit and thought one day that if I was hit by a lorry or car whilst jogging, how would the hospital know who I was? How would they track me down? Would anyone know that I had disappeared?

It’s not obvious is it? When jogging, I have no id on me. As a result, I’ve had my name, social security number and birth date tattooed on my arse just in case.  Just kidding, but you get the idea. What I actually do is wear an id bracelet when travelling … just in case.

But identity is a really tough area that is incredibly badly managed today. Yes, there are many people who don’t exist but, even when you do exist, it is pretty ineffective as just outlined. Steal my passport or lose my driving licence and who am I? How do you know it’s me?

Even if you do exist, it is obviously easy to buck the system as evidenced by that stunning statistic of $1.6 trillion being money laundered through the banking system and only 2% actually being tracked, traced and caught.

Nope, identity systems of the 20th century are completely useless in this digital age. We need something better, and I’ve referred to self-sovereign identity schemes a few times now (most recently related to the Equifax hack).

Anyways, I thought the point was illustrated particularly well by my non-existent wife, even though I can see her and touch her.

Shame she doesn’t exist.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, 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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  • William Gibson

    Hey, Chris, having met your wife and enjoyed numerous interactions with the two of you, I can attest that she actually does exist. But, you raise a crucial point. In spite of the fact that there is an entire history of events recorded on Facebook or LinkedIn or other social media, that is not sufficient, as we can see from the ability of hackers such as Grucifer 2.0 and other Russian hackers to create face people on those platforms.

    If one travels such as you do, a subliminal fear has to be the potential to disappear, non-voluntarily, due to situations that you suggest (jogging without ID). I know that I am concerned in a similar manner.

    We need to have a biometric ID capture process, but face recognition, fingerprints, retina scanning, or DNA capture, are all subject to misuse. We have to look at the knock-on effects of any such mechanisms.

    For you two, well, maybe a document such as your children’s birth certificates might help … or does the British government fail to believe that they exist as well?

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  • Fritz Thomas Klein

    Even more: If you want to open an account with a British bank as a resident living abroad with a valid passport in your hand and personally present i8n the bank, it does not work (anyway not at NatWest). You would also need an English utility bill showing an English address – but you don’t have English utility bills when you live abroad!

  • Alex J Nagel

    Very valid points indeed. Thank you. The only ones who seem to get anything right at banks are the criminals. We honest people are just treated like moondust.
    One place I certainly draw the line though is at implants with all details on it. I will rather be non-existent lol