Solving the Puzzle of International Identity Verification

By Cognito Team on May 25, 2021

Data is not bound by national borders, and neither are today’s connected businesses, but rules and regulations around identity verification (IDV) are. This causes problems for organizations providing financial services and other offerings that require strong authentication and makes services that cover multiple countries nearly impossible.

“There is little uniformity of data, yet uniformity is critical for verification to succeed,” says Chris Morton, President and COO at Cognito. “Even something that seems universal like an address is very different in each country.”

Morton and his team have observed the unique challenges of international identity verification up close and personal and they have worked to solve them for nearly eight years. He shares his insights on why international IDV is such a stumbling block for many businesses and how Cognito is blazing a trail to making digital identity verification simple.

Who depends on international identity verification?

In today’s world, nearly all businesses need to verify people outside of the country in which they operate. While highly regulated businesses tend to focus on customers who are residents of their country of operation, there are exceptions and most of the time these need to be handled manually. A prime example is a foreign student needing a bank account when studying abroad.

Then there are financial institutions whose footprints are inherently global, a good example being those that handle cryptocurrency. There has been an uptick in businesses with international services and manually managing multiple international accounts quickly becomes unwieldy.

Why is international identity verification important?

There are several reasons why international IDV is fundamental. Some of the most commonly cited are regulatory compliance, consumer protection, and fighting financial crime and limiting fraud.

However, all businesses should place a high value on the sense of trust and safety that strong verification brings. “When people identify themselves, they tend to behave better, much like when people see each other face-to-face,” explains Morton. “There is a level of accountability. just compare Twitter to your neighborhood email list. Identifying people keeps bad actors out.”

Two key challenges to global IDV

1. Strengthening the security layer siphons developer time

Morton and his team support many organizations that, prior to Cognito, had implemented ID verification in stages. “One company we helped started off with no verification, then verification via postcard, then credit card, but ultimately adopted Cognito and used phone numbers,” says Morton.

It is common for businesses to introduce hurdles that increase the burden on bad actors but any impact the verification process has on the sign-up funnel has implications for all users. And as Morton points out, “Each one of those iterations takes months, and always sacrifices user growth and development time.”

2. Different jurisdictions need different APIs and providers inhibiting scale

When it comes to identity verification, standard methods of authentication such as address vary in format from country to country. When using an API-based solution to perform global identity verification in another country, businesses need to make sure any information they input is formatted according to the specifications of both the API and the jurisdiction.

That usually means creating different user interfaces (UIs) per country. “We had been testing international data for a while,” says Morton. “The thing that kept us from creating an international IDV service early on was the fact that just adding an API for each country didn’t deliver enough value for us or our customers.”

The team found that duplicating the work for every country was not effective in terms of time, cost, and payoff. “This was especially true when there is not much re-use of code between countries,” notes Morton. “The API solution simply wasn’t enough.” As a result, a robust solution for international identity verification was left off the table until now.

The fix? Simplify international IDV with a flexible platform

The Cognito team has developed a powerful platform solution, Flow, that simplifies the international IDV process. Flow allows organizations to implement new verification requirements quickly without technical intervention.

“If you want to add a country, you check a box and set up the rules visually in minutes,” says Morton. “There is no code to update, no APIs to implement, and no SDK to push through App Store reviews. That would literally take months of work per country with a traditional solution.”

With an API-based solution, the best way to make sure identity verification criteria are formatted correctly is to build complex programs to interact with users in real time as they type in their information, fact-checking it against reliable sources for instance, comparing addresses to Google Maps. That information would then be sent to the verification API. Now, Flow does all that for you.

“You add in a few lines of JavaScript code, and all the complexity of making the per-country UI is completed for you including address normalization, name normalization, character set enforcement, and any enhanced features like capturing a photo ID or other identity document. You add a new country by clicking on the dashboard.”

The ability to add new countries to your service delivery is going to continue being essential in today’s global marketplace, and the hassle of a traditional API-based solution or legacy identity verification process just won’t cut it. Go beyond APIs to ensure your international identity verification is up to the task.

Contact Cognito to learn more about international identity verification solutions for your business.

 

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