Singpass incorporates digital identity card, saves $36 per onboarding, considers decentralization
Singapore’s digital identity scheme, Singpass, adds new features and service integrations as penetration reaches 97 percent of eligible residents, according to Kendrick Lee, director of National Digital Identity at the Government Technology (GovTech) agency. Global partnerships and a reduction in minimum age could see it being used by more people in more places.
Speaking in a session hosted by the Alan Turing Institute, Lee described his team’s aim to “create an ecosystem of trust.” They want to create more than just a framework, wanting to build a digital economy where people are empowered to interact confidently with public and private sectors and businesses have a suite of trust services as APIs “to capture the opportunities that come with digitalization.”
Initially launched 20 years ago as a username and password login for government services, Singpass became an app in 2018 and in 2021 was relaunched on PKI architecture as a cryptography-based mobile app.
It has 3.5 million users of whom 85 percent use it each month, generating 23 million transactions a year. It now operates in all four official languages and has user ratings averaging 4.7 stars on Apple and Google app stores.
The remaining 3 percent of eligible people yet to sign up are generally 15-year-olds who although now eligible have not yet enrolled, or the elderly who do not perceive the benefits as relevant. The government is considering lowering the entitlement age.
“Inclusion for us a contemporary problem,” reflected Lee, “It’s really about reaching the last hundred thousand people.”
The latest feature is the incorporation of a digital version of the identity card on the mobile app. Government services already accept it, such as polyclinics, libraries, and the National Digital Identity team is working with the private sector for acceptance.
Lee said they are working on a DID VC-based identity wallet. The MyInfo feature of the app is where users can access and control their identity data. It is where relying parties access information for contactless, remote and instant customer acquisition.
MyInfo allows users to share and control their information with explicit consent. Its “tell me once” feature means that once a document has been shared with it, it does not need to be resubmitted to the system again by the user, an approach being pursued for the European Digital Wallet.
“Currently its’ a federated ecosystem of somewhat centralized sources, we’re actually exploring decentralized distributed models such as those based on W3C DID VC to keep abreast of evolving preferences and technology trends,” said Lee.
Businesses convert more customers via MyInfo, says Lee, as a result of better user experience and provision of better quality data. There is an average reduction of 80 percent in the time taken to apply for financial products and relying parties report a 15 percent higher approval rate. They also save up to S$50 (US$36) per application. There are more than 200,000 transactions a day with the system, including with international banks such as Citi.
There are far fewer clicks to sign up. Data shared from the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship showed only 20-plus clicks were needed to navigate bank account opening when MyInfo is integrated. Other banks elsewhere can require a hundred more. Approval can be instant, including the issuance of digital credit cards.
“We’re quite proud of this ability to provide instant finance in Singapore,” noted Lee.
The app also integrates with SGFinDex, Singapore’s open banking making it “the world’s first public digital infrastructure that allows a person to sign in using a special digital identity and provide consent to obtain his financial information from different financial institutions and government agencies.”
This means Singpass can display to a user all their various financial information such as pensions, insurance, bank accounts meaning it can “consolidate a personal balance sheet.” This has been particularly significant for insurance companies as previously people very rarely looked into their insurance.
Business adoption is driven through GovTech’s API portal. It makes sandboxes publicly available (to register for using a sandbox, one simply logs in with one’s Singpass) and last year the team supported more than 500 integration proposals, which can be launched in a matter of days.
MyInfo now powers more than 800 digital services in the private sector and 2,000 government services.
The Singpass has been adopted by places such as hospitals and small or medium companies offering Software as a Service as “instead of building their own identity access management systems, they’ve simply just adopted Singpass,” noted Lee, “you don’t even need to register users.”
The role of biometrics
The Login function allows users to create new online accounts without having to create new passwords and the Identiface feature allows face biometrics, without users having to register as the authority already has a face photo via the passport or national ID card. Selfies for verification can be matched against this central record. Face biometrics are generally used in combination with another factor.
Selfies are stored for 30 days and then deleted and an alternative to biometrics is always available said Lee: “Perceptions of biometrics are something we take quite seriously.”
Face biometrics are still being piloted to ensure the design is correct. Already available at government kiosks, where they have had the most impact is with government payment distribution at ATMs. The function is used to distribute payments in cash to recipients via ATMs, and the individual does not need a bank account with the bank operating the machine. There have been 87,000 verifications via the service since last year.
Singpass also incorporates PKI digital signatures, including with local and international partners such as DocuSign. Lee notes that one of the key use areas for this was for signing tenancy agreements remotely during COVID-19. One hundred and forty thousand signatures have been used via the platform since last year.
While the team has recorded a five-times increase in adoption of Singpass via business digitization, Lee said he does not think the scheme is “anywhere near our full potential.”
Lee was recently in the UK where he met the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS). A topic of particular interest to Lee is international student enrollment, aiding students in applying and arriving in other countries. He said that onboarding additional trust anchors to the Singpass could mean it could be uses for services accredited against the UK’s trust framework and vice versa.
This post was updated at 12:02pm Eastern on August 1, 2022 to clarify that face biometrics are not used for pension payments.