Ekata: Getting Human With Digital Personas Is Key To ID Management

Information, knowledge and wisdom are three very different things.

Sure, the lines separating those three areas can be both fine and blurry, but understanding how they differ can mean the difference between success and failure — or even the difference between falling victim to fraud and fending off online criminals.

One way to get to the point of wisdom — usually considered the highest ideal among those three areas — is to form a holistic picture of the problem at hand and move accordingly. That guidance definitely applies to the fast-growing and fast-changing world of digital identity and identity management, as discussed in the latest edition of the PYMNTS Masterclass series. This one features Varun Kumar, vice president of engineering at Ekata, a global identity verification service.

“The world is going digital right now,” he told PYMNTS.

Sure, that sounds obvious, but his larger point was this: Everyone has a digital persona, and one of the biggest tasks of the coming decade is to find better ways to link those personas with the human beings behind them — and in ways that result in secure and efficient onboarding, as well as transactions that have less friction than might be the case now.

“You want to create a holistic view of that person,” Kumar said.

Who Is John Smith?

Say a person who lives in Seattle wants to buy a Christmas gift online and ship it to a relative in New York, Kumar explained. A good identity management system would ideally take such information as the buyer’s address, IP and other data, and link it with the shipping address so as not to introduce any friction into the transaction process and slow down the delivery.

Or it could be other types of transactions that might raise the eyebrows, so to speak, of fraud prevention systems. Even a bit of friction can reduce purchases — and false positives can certainly sour a consumer on a particular merchant, serving to depress revenue.

Achieving a holistic view is much easier said than done, even with all the data crumbs — and bigger bites — that people leave with every move they make on the web or via mobile devices. As Kumar explained to PYMNTS, the first problem comes with getting that data into the proper state. It is important to “normalize” and “validate” the data, which can be more than challenging when it comes large data sets.

“Everything starts at that point,” he said. “If you don’t have the starting point right, you won’t get the holistic view.”

Data Matching

Then, Kumar said, comes data matching — using all the links that human beings have, all the clues they leave about themselves, the various data attributes that are available for analysis and determinations. The idea is to confirm that people are who they say they are online by linking various data points and seeing through the fog of clutter — clutter that can include, say, similar names (John L. Smith vs. John S. Smith) as part of the general effort to ensure a smooth transaction or onboarding.

“You want to create one single personal record from John Smith, so when the transaction comes, we can easily identify if they are the same person,” Kumar said

Even old-fashioned phone numbers can help pull some weight when it comes to better identity management. After all, pretty much everyone has a phone number, even if it’s not for a traditional landline. But, of course, there are many other sources of data tied to digital personas and the real people behind them, including the growing area of behavioral biometrics.

And better authentication is becoming much more important from a regulatory point of view. Just consider the European Union’s pending strong customer authentication (SCA) rules. SCA, slated to begin on Sept. 14 as part of the Payments Service Directive (PSD2), was delayed earlier this year, giving merchants more time to comply.

SCA stands as one of the most comprehensive global efforts to bring more security to online payments and eCommerce — while also, at least ideally, reducing the friction that can alienate consumers from merchants, financial institutions and payment service providers. But a delay is not really a break — it just means more time for important work to be done, and for businesses and regulators to figure out what really works in the SCA space.

All of this activity — and Kumar’s Masterclass comments — point to a future in which links between digital personas and the people behind them will become much more important.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.