3 Lessons on data & identity from Covid19

Olaf Ransome
4 min readJul 27, 2020

Well lessons from the first half anyway. Data is the new oil. Many tricks were missed by government and individuals alike. I see three things as worth highlighting. 5 min read for some summer enlightment.

#1 Digital ID for individuals. Over here in Switzerland we have been “opening up” for a few weeks now. Understandably, clubs and bars were desperate to open. “Take names and contact details” was the edict from government. Makes sense, as it would drive contact tracing if needed. No sooner were the doors open and we had a case of a “super spreader” who knew he was ill, went out anyway and condemned some 300 people to quarantine. Reckless and the individual deserves to suffer financially.

There was also a giant data problem. Personal details had been taken on the door, but not thoroughly and not usably. Lots of rather silly folks had used fake email addresses and phone numbers. In some cases, clubs had taken photos of official ID cards. There is no easy link from a photo to the ID to a phone number.

Countries need to move beyond the humble ID-card. The Brits are sadly well behind the times, with the idea of these plastic things being associated with Big Brother.

Lesson learned: If there had been a fit for purpose digital ID, then maybe the super spreader would have been tagged and not let in. At the very least, if getting in meant you had to show your digital ID, then contract tracing would be a non-issue.

That same foundation would be fabulous for distributing “welfare” easily & quickly both in crisis times and normal ones. It would likely need to be linked to tax records and unemployment records.

Of course, at this point the members of the data protection squad break out in full voice. My view on that is easy; if there is a requirement to show digital ID to get in or to get something, then you always have a choice. Granted, this might not be too good for all that under age drinking and clubbing though.

#2 Digital ID for companies. Switzerland did pretty well handing out cash help to companies, with the federal government guaranteeing risk up to CHF 500k or 10% of turnover. We have had some fraud, albeit only a little. Sadly a disproportionate amount of it from non-Swiss folks.

Here we have a formal company numbering scheme and we use the LEI, so data standards were not a limiting factor. The limitations were more around company records and central record keeping. Some applicants mis-represented their turnover; this could be easily fixed by making access to central government data easier. The other issue was the old chestnut of multiple applications. Shades of all that privitisation under Margaret Thatcher and multiple applications from university students. Again, inadequate data management meant the same company could ask for government backed loans from multiple banks.

Lesson learned: we need good company data availability

#3 Customer data for small businesses. Local shops and restaurants that my wife and I use showed a varied response as doors closed. Some had our email address and reached out digitally. Boggi, a clothing chain, were super inventive, even offering clothes buying by appointment. Another, our optician, had some data but not the best data and did not seize the data. He had mobile phone numbers but didn’t use them. A small non-chain clothing store had my e-mail but didn’t write. A local lakeside restaurant was the same. Never heard from them; they were relying on my going up to the door to see when they would be back. Other places may call me a client, but they only know I am client when I walk through the door and they recognise my face.

Lesson learned: If you are a business, don’t be shy. Collect that data, with permission of course. And, think how you stay in contact. A key ingredient is that you make friends when you can and not when you have to. Stay in touch, regularly. Then if there is an emergency moment like Covid19, you already have that channel up and running.

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About the Author: The Bankers’ Plumber. I help banks and FinTechs master their processing; optimising control, capacity and cost.

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Olaf Ransome

The Bankers’ Plumber. I help banks and FinTechs master their processing; optimising control, capacity and cost. I also offer training courses; Operational Risk