Biometric ID could help low-income Saint John residents access financial services: new study

·3 min read

Using biometric identification, such as a fingerprint or an eye scan, could be an effective solution to a lack of personal identification that's holding back those living in poverty from accessing important financial services, according to a new study.

The study, co-authored by the Saint John Community Loan Fund and NB Social Pediatrics, looked at the personal and systemic barriers to banking, health care and voting. It revealed that personal identification and strict ID requirements are the biggest barriers to accessing those services, as most organizations require some form of ID.

Called "Eyeing the ID: Bio-metric Banking for Saint John," the study surveyed about 157 New Brunswick and Nova Scotia residents about their experiences with finances, banking and ID, with the aim of understanding if biometrics or ID banks could be effective solutions for individuals without ID.

"Removing the barriers created by ID requirements could improve financial inclusion and access to valuable services in our region," reads the report.

"Another viable alternative that more than half of participants were interested in was an ID Bank solution. An ID bank is a place where people can bring their documents to be safely stored, and access them when needed."

About 75 per cent of the respondents were interested in a biometric alternative to traditional identification, such as a fingerprint or eye scan, according to the report.

Darlene Jones, a coordinator with the Saint John Community Loan Fund, said the impetus behind the study was learning about Four Directions, a financial institution in Alberta aimed at priority neighbourhoods that allows customers to use biometric identification so they don’t have to carry ID, which can be stolen or lost.

The study challenges the traditional way of thinking about how citizens acquire ID, said Jones, as it revealed not having an address was a barrier to accessing ID because government agencies require a mailing address to send ID documents to customers.

The study also points out that a lack of IDs is also directly linked to precarious housing as individuals often need IDs to get placed on local subsidized housing lists, and to set up power and utilities.

While the study says implementing biometric ID, with the required technology and training, could be costly, once it's established, the ongoing delivery costs are manageable.

The ID bank option, however, "had a perfect score for start-up cost, sustainability cost, and ongoing delivery, while also scoring relatively high in ease of implementation," reads the study.

Jones said the next steps involve setting up a free, voluntary ID bank, for which the organization is in the process of developing privacy guidelines.

"We really encourage people to once, they do have their ID, we would safekeep it for them," she said. "We're going to be the ones with the filing cabinets and going to keep your documents on file, and if you ever need them, you come and get them."

Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Saint John-based Human Development Council, called the study a "good baseline document" to allow both organizations to "move forward and possibly do something."

But Hatfield said using biometric identification requires, not only individuals to get on board, but organizations, like banks and government institutions.

"They have to agree to participate in a program like that," he said, adding it's uncertain how responsive they would be to the needs of low-income individuals who don't have bank accounts.

"For people that are precariously housed or are living in a shelter or sleeping rough or couch surfing, that's a group that clearly would benefit from either an ID bank or biometrics or a group that would help them navigate and acquire a proper ID," he said.

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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