Let’s talk about digital identity with Bianca Lopes, Identity Advocate, Investor.

Join Bianca Lopes and Oscar as they discuss the top challenges, solutions and achievements for digital identity within the financial industry – the connection to regenerative finance (Refi) and how this is changing identity in finance.

[Transcript below]

“I think a lot of the microservices architectures that some of the banks and financial services companies have implemented in their movement to the cloud, or just in their change inside and internally, have opened up their minds to rethink identity across the organisation.”

Bianca LopesBianca Lopes is an investor, business builder, economist, and identity expert, who focusing on driving meaningful impact through technology and regulation. Leading many significant identity projects and having helped transform how data can unlock financial and social worth. With a central focus on how we can rewire finance using the power of digital identity, ethics, and Web3.

Bianca is driven by how we negotiate competing values with data and information technologies. In her work I have supported over 40 financial institutions and 8 governments to reshape their approach to technology, rethink the role of identity, and leverage their innovation agendas. She manages an international speaking calendar to help business leaders, governments, and consumers understand the impact that data, privacy, and finance will continue to have on our lives.

Bianca’s journey and lived experience have informed her worldview. Born in Brazil, educated in Canada, based in Denmark and multilingual, she has encountered both sides of economic and digital development. Her mission is to build bridges and create value. She is honoured to work with UNESCO’s International Research Center on Artificial Intelligence. Here we facilitate cooperation in developing artificial intelligence with special emphasis on supporting the development of a vibrant AI ecosystem Globally.

Connect with Bianca on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram – @biasmlopes.

We’ll be continuing this conversation on Twitter using #LTADI – join us @ubisecure!

Go to our YouTube to watch the video transcript for this episode.

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Podcast transcript

Let’s Talk About Digital Identity, the podcast connecting identity and business. I am your host, Oscar Santolalla.

Oscar Santolalla: Hello and thanks for joining a new episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity. And today, we’ll hear how the financial industry is redefining itself. And of course, what is the role of identity on this. For that, we a have special guest who is Bianca Lopes. As an investor, business builder, economist and identity expert, Bianca Lopes focuses on driving meaningful impact through technology and regulation. Leading many significant identity projects, she has helped transform how data can unlock financial and social worth. Bianca’s central focus is on how we can rewire finance using the power of digital identity, ethics, and Web 3.0. Hello, Bianca.

Bianca Lopes: Hello, Oscar, thank you for having me.

Oscar: First, tell us about yourself and what was your journey to this world of identity?

Bianca: All right. Well, I guess I’ll start where my sort of journey on this Earth started. I’m from Brazil, originally. I’m an economist, as you mentioned, and my journey started in data centres. I was actually putting biometric hardware in physical parameter security. And I got into this after working at the bank for few years, I worked as a trader, and I worked in commercial banking. And then I worked in risk management and came to work with my client. And he was building this business. And this business was in the biometric space.

And back in the day, it was kind of like, you know, minority report, when you told people you worked in biometrics. And little did I know that that’s where my journey in identity was meant to start. And that was about over 13 years ago. It’s been incredible. It’s been a journey of purpose and a journey of understanding what an industry is really capable of.

Oscar: Yeah, and as an economist, suddenly doing some biometrics and I’m feeling, did that scare you? Apparently, it didn’t scare you at that time.

Bianca: No, it kind of excited me when I like, well, at first, when you kind of realise you break it down and its data, right, as an economist, you’re used to being able to handle like tremendous amount of data and compute things. And, you know, your kind of – like, I’m kind of a curious person so I was trying to correlate things.

So I was looking at this technology and figuring out, OK, if we’re using this for some of the highest, most secure data centres at that time in North America and all over Asia, how can we look at this in this digital world that I was inherently built in, that I saw us trying to build at RBC where I used to work.

So that was kind of how we went from literally a physical wall, to this thing on the phone before there was even sensors, we started talking about, you know, how can this mean – a mean of access. And that was the first time and realised that what excited me and not scared me was that this is about access. This is about understanding. As an economist, I was curious. And it was about correlating these big data things to understand who’s here? Who’s allowed? And that was like a revelation moment.

Oscar: Yeah. Fantastic. That spark your attention so much that you, yeah, you are here now talking about digital identity and very into this industry. So, from your perspective which started this world of digital identity and finances now, through this journey, your entrepreneur, you do many things as far as I know. So, from this very wide perspective you have on your opinion, personal opinion, what are the top challenges that digital identity has today?

Bianca: I think the first one is the reality. It’s the reality that as much as we’ve made some unicorns and billionaires, and, you know, we have our click clubs are growing, it’s still not understood. And it’s still in the hands of a few and we still miserably failed at addressing massive portions of the population, from our biases on how we build code or to the way, you know, we’ve distributed that technology, or to the barriers we’ve created with understanding.

I often find, you know, part of, or half, so it sounds like an airy-fairy journey and excited and identity was – it was hard. It was a lot of acronyms and a lot of things that didn’t talk to each other, didn’t interoperate. It was almost like it was designed that way. So, when I look at one of the challenges like that’s the first one is education and understanding. But it starts with this acceptance of the reality of where we are.

You know, we’ve gone a long way, and this industry is filled with amazing people, which is why I’m still here and like preaching as loud as I can. Preaching is not the right word but like sharing and saying, “Hey, guys, I’ve seen the light and like, some of these things can change the world.” But the challenge is, you know, it can only change something you can at least acknowledge or see or understand. And a lot of us have made this super complicated, that’s why people like you, Oscar, and this community are like, we need more.

So that’s the challenge. That’s one of the, I think, of the big ones, on the education, on the understanding. Then there’s technical challenges we can talk about.

Oscar: Of course, technical challenges, there are many. And of course, the most techy, between us we are working hard to solve the challenge. But I definitely agree with you with the education, so understand well, what has – well, what has failed a way. So, what we don’t understand enough, even between us who are in this industry.

Bianca: Yeah, we divide, right? Like if you kind of walk around or even if you look at, and fair enough, like a huge part of this, I feel like, “How did we get here?” You ask yourself in the financial services industry, how did we get here that we don’t have at least a shared understanding one of the importance of identity? Like I’ve been looked at like an alien for a long time in some of these bank conversations saying, Identity. And like, “What?” And then they’re like, “Ah, onboarding.” And I was like, “No, no, no. Identity.” And I’m like, trying to have a principles conversation, a foundational conversation, not a fix here conversation. So, I think there’s a little bit of that in the challenge of the industry itself. And a lot of that has to do with control. And I think the way we were taught how to look at data, how to think about data. And identity is kind of like the foundation of a lot of that, right.

Oscar: Indeed, indeed, yeah. Crazy. Well, now that you mentioned, you had had some of these conversations where mostly anybody in the room means – understand what identity means in that context is well, hard to imagine. And I suppose it still happens today.

Bianca: I think everybody has a different definition. And that’s part of the beast. And that’s part of the identity crisis of not only of financial industry, but our own industry, and human nature trying to label things.

Oscar: And what would you say about good solutions or achievements. So, let’s not focus on what is wrong, but the things that you have been observing, finding, discovering in these last years, and something that good solution achievements, yeah, that are worth mentioning in this identity industry?

Bianca: Ooh, where to start? There’s so many. Like, the industry has been filled with so many. My career was fortunate to me, like I worked in many projects in digital identity from digital infrastructures of the biometric expert. Relooking at some of the adjacent consequences of Aadhaar, which, you know, people talk about it as a failure.

But if we talk about starting a billion people in the beginning of the industry, that was a compliment. The failure perhaps was that lack of, or constitutional infrastructure, or lack of privacy, or security built into it, which leads me to like, look at how much cryptography and like zero-knowledge proof as an industry and as a specialisation has grown. And so that to me is, you know, the deep, deep tech infrastructure that is going to make digital identity work.

In the biometric space, my country often gets looked over in Brazil, and they’ve done amazing, if you look even just back in the ’90s to advance the industry. You know, when Fujitsu was coming up with like, palm hand vein sensors, and HID was finding fingerprint biometric and talking about persistent identity. This was like in the ’90s. And the industry has evolved tremendously ever since.

And now, you hear sure, Vitalik talks about soulbound NFTs. Or finally, our CEO of JP Morgan talk about identity is important. Like, that’s great. This is important. And some of the new technology and even standards on NFTs are identity components that we’ve been talking on the credential industry for ages.

So, some of these advancements and technologies worth mentioning are the foundation of what’s been predominantly at the periphery of the technology stack. If you’re a technologist or think about it in a bank infrastructure, it’s been at the onboarding or it’s been in access directory. Now you have to reconstruct this with thinking of, you know, decentralising data honeypots. You look at technologies from like an innovator or some other folks that understand that this innovation is needed, that now we have more data points, more identifiers, more ways of looking at people’s identities to how we’re going to also upkeep privacy ethics and centralisation of data.

Those are all advancements I get super excited about. They go from, you know, when people talk about in the banking industry of building trust, or building a digital economy and connecting everything, and seamless everything, this infrastructure needs to be built and these advancements is what, it’s definitely worth noting and worth understanding.

Oscar: Yeah, certainly there’s a lot being ready to be used, combined, and of course, customised to different needs. And specifically, now we go see more closely to the financial industry. What is working well today in the financial industry from an identity perspective?

Bianca: Well, I think we’ve kind of succeeded or got there in the biometric camp that I started in. I started selling biometric software to banks and Visa. And it was like, I’m talking about biometric authentication. So that’s working. I think it can improve and there’s a wave of improvement and excitement. But it’s been implemented in like onboarding journeys. I think most of us can now correlate to what I say when I say, you know, your face recognition. I remember when I started, people were like, “Your what?” Like, what are you going to do with that? So that’s been well and working.

I think a lot of the microservices architectures that some of the banks and financial services companies have implemented in their movement to the cloud, or just in their change inside and internally, have opened up their minds to rethink identity across the organisation. You know, we’ve talked about it being in silos and you know, the bank didn’t know that the Bianca that owned this business is the same Bianca of the personal side, and where is the line in the sand. And that has allowed the identity and document verification industry to make billions because you authenticated the same person twice.

Now that when you’re thinking about that change, that’s something that is working in the financial services industry. But the change, you’re still seeing, like, if I brought big banks in their room and said, “Hey, how many people here are on identity and access, or identity management, or security?” There’d be a lot of hands in the room. So, from a lot of different departments. And then there’d be a lot of different vendors in the identity stack and ecosystem that would come along with that. And I think that that’s working but could be better. And needs to be better.

Oscar: When you mentioned biometrics, of course, you started a long time ago with biometrics. But today in the recent years, so which ones are the ones most used? And it’s mostly mobile or how it is in practice? Yeah, how is the personal interaction?

Bianca: It depends country by country, but if I want to go make gross global generalisations, and I mean gross here, like if anybody who want to talk about a country you guys can hit me up after. But it’s mostly obviously the same trends that follows mobile. And one of the interesting parts about a lot of the technology advancements practically in computer vision, some of the underlying technology that, you know, people talk about in machine learning is what also works in biometric space, it’s predominantly benefited from better sensors, better cameras, better microphones, because it’s better capture of data.

So, if you think about a biometric, you know, minutiae or template, it’s kind of like a photo of a bunch of little pieces of information together, the better the data, the better the photo, the better the accuracy of you being you. So, it kind of has followed that trend. Which one is more predominantly used? Obviously, you’ve seen facial biometrics take over pretty massively, and you saw, and I think there’s going to start to see a resurge around fingerprint and some of the other alternatives for what one could call like multifactor authentication, or higher degree of like transactional value, a.k.a. “I need to be a little bit more certain so I’m going to mix some stuff here.”

But when – in the same token, when you look at things like accelerometer sensors on phones and other identifiers, and tokens inside of phones, you have this other wave of proxies or pseudonyms out of identity that are also coming up that one could sometimes people encompasses all this stuff into like behavioural, but there’s subtleties there. And I think that that’s also something you will see. You’re seeing now in the fraud department as a trend, but you’re not seeing it as much as a passless like, imagine your metaverse authentication. It kind of just kind of knows your avatar and here we go. There’s lots of other factors behind this like, image or thing.

Oscar: OK. So, it feels like we’re going to see more biometrics, not only in the financial industry, of course, a lot in the metaverse as you mentioned.

Bianca: Yeah, I think so.

Oscar: And tell me how is the financial industry redefining itself?

Bianca: Well, I think it’s been redefined a lot by, if you kind of look around the globe, by regulatory regimes – opening up and understanding this concept we started with around data, right. That identity is so central too and it needs to take a bigger role here. My point being the identities like they’ve had to redefine themselves.

Like if I look at Brazil, you know, some of the banks had to redefine themselves because you had a president of our central bank incredibly fast moving and changing legislation and opening up parameters of data sharing that enable entire FinTech multitrillion dollar FinTech industry to be built. So, they’ve had to reinvent their services, you know, through much pain, kicking and screaming around digital transformation, where I think that one could say they’re being forced now to redefine themselves is in this CBDC, which is another foundational part of the architecture of any system, exchange of value as well.

So there, you starting to see banks look and do some things, some more than the others. Some of them pay attention to, obviously, crypto conversations and other legislation. So, they’re having to reinvent themselves in terms of what is their payment acceptance. I’ve yet to see us fully embrace the thing I’m excited about, which is, you know, another hash tag here, but ReFi, Regenerative Finance. And why am I getting excited about this? Because finally identity can have such a massive role, and a rule of equity of value and equity of distribution.

So that’s how I’m excited about the finance industry understanding that, you know, at some point, we all made up money. And they became the kind of holders and, you know, guardians of some of it, along with central bank for a public good. Where did we lose track along the way? And what are we going to look at financing? Because I don’t know about you, but the world is backwards and a little bit on fire, is probably the understatement of the century. So, if banks intend to have something to redefine and to count, I expect them to be doing a lot more than what we’re seeing today in digital transformation. And I think the identity industry can see this as an opportunity.

Oscar: Yes. How you define that concept of regenerative finance?

Bianca: It’s the idea of you’ve extracted things from the world, you’ve extracting things from people. If you look at the agriculture, we’re here to feed, but have you really thought about the effect that it has on the human bodies of those who feed us? And yet, we’re still starving as a collective. Why does that exist? Well, because of the price of trade, because of the price of how much labour is in certain areas, because of the price of a commodity, because it pays more to farm a pig than to plant a tree.

But if you looked at a world that was a nature-based economy, and we as economists, or just as humans realise that things are finite, and we’re connected as an ecology. There’s no balance sheet, you know, delineation between the air that I breathe and the air that somebody in India breathes. So, I can put carbon credits all day long, but I have to acknowledge these things.

So regenerative finance is a movement. It’s a decision to say, “Hey, how do I use models and instruments?” You know, bonds, stocks, exchanges, bank account, these things were built for facilitating trade and facilitating, hopefully distribution, access. This is all about identity as well, right? And we’re kind of like, so regenerative finance is an opportunity for finance to think about what incentive structures are they building. What kind of incentives are we building for humanity? Do we need another stock exchange when there’s no water? Everybody’s, like where where’s the line?

Oscar: Who needs to lead this regenerative finance? A bit difficult word for me. I don’t know.

Bianca: So, finanças regenerativas, finanzas regenerativas – Portuguese and then in Spanish. Who needs to lead? It’s a community effort. It’s not – and that’s the starting point. The starting point is like, it’s acknowledgement of our impact in the good and bad ways. Like, we all have impact in how we exchange energy, how we’re there, and it’s acknowledging that, and I don’t think it’s like, OK, the banks have to lead it, or technologists have to lead it. Like, that has led us here.

Oscar: Yes. Yeah, I’m getting your point.

Bianca: I would like to think that the answer lies not there. I don’t have a crystal ball.

Oscar: Yeah. So, what’s the primary issue that ReFi seeks to address?

Bianca: That the incentive structures of building and caring for the planet and humanity are backwards. So, they seek to build products, infrastructure, instruments, market, liquidity, you know, which deep down, like, how does the world go around? If you ask me, I’ll tell you, energy. If you ask most, they’ll tell you, money. If you really look at that, that’s what they’re trying to address.

How do I make sure that, you know, the farmer in Brazil doesn’t want to cut down a tree but he actually makes more money from keeping the tree and maybe he can have time and take care of his body or take care of somebody’s education or his own future and reduce the cost of health care? Like what is the impact of realising we’re connected ecosystem? A word that is so used and like so not but true. So that’s what I think. We’re trying to figure it out, or just at least acknowledge.

Oscar: And how the industry, how the digital identity industry can help. So, what’s the connection? Being more concrete on this, so how we can help? What is the connection between ReFi and digital identity?

Bianca: All right. So, if you kind of think about it in a very simplistic way, and you said, here’s the Earth, and here’s all these people, and these animals and these resources on it. Like a good board game, right? We have all these things. How do you distribute them? Well, you kind of first have to identify them. And the digital identity industry, or the IoT industry, or the you know, the data industry, and the auxiliary industries around security and distribution and storage and cryptography are going to be needed if we’re going to play this game in a fair, transparent and ethical way that we can keep people accountable.

So that’s how to me in a very simplistic down to Earth way. We talk about, yeah, we’re going to build digital trust, we’re going to be able to exchange everything in the metaverse and we’re going to go from this place to this place. We would have fractionalise this, like, how are you going to identify these things? How are you going to tie them? How are you going, you know, authenticate and verify, like, where these systems going to interoperate? Who’s going to make sense of like, where’s going to be the security? Hey, this one is not identified like, are we in the system? Are we not… Is that going to be a creepy thing? Is that going to not going to be a creepy thing? Like, in a very simplistic way, that’s what the identity industry should have done and should have thought about. That’s why I talked about periphery to foundation. To me it’s a massive change.

Oscar: It’s definitely interesting. I think we have to talk more about this in the future. So yeah, hopefully.

Bianca: We can talk, I can talk about this for days.

Oscar: I’m sure you do.

Bianca: Yeah, I love what I do.

Oscar: Yeah, absolutely. ReFi a topic that definitely we have to talk more in the future, so yeah, I have to bring in more in this podcast. So, this is the first time, thanks for introducing this, so much about this before. Bianca, final question, for all business leaders listening to us now, what is the one actionable idea that they should write on their agendas today?

Bianca: To pursue the definition of identity within the context of their work. If you listen to this, it’s because you’re curious, or maybe because you’re exploring an identity project, maybe in the periphery, like I said, you know, I’m getting a better document verification, or I’m getting a new security system, or I’m doing a new way of identifying money laundering fraud. Like, maybe you’re in somewhere in that journey. Step away and try to connect the dots in that identity journey inside of your business. There’s a lot of cost-savings to be made and nothing else during this recession. And there’ll be much to be gained if you enjoyed, or sort of got a little bit of this conversation.

Oscar: Thanks a lot Bianca for a super interesting conversation.

Bianca: You’re welcome. You do lots of these. So, I hoped I would.

Oscar: Please let us know how people can continue the conversation with you or learn more about what you’re doing.

Bianca: Yeah. Totally. Reach us via LinkedIn, or there’s a website it’s Biancalopes.com, pretty simple, or Instagram, Twitter @biasmlopes. Any of those ways you’ll get a hold of me. And if I’m in your city or in your country, hit me up. I’d love to grab a coffee if you’re talking or interested in identity, and if I can be of help, part of the journey.

Oscar: Thanks a lot, Bianca. It was a pleasure talking with you and all the best.

Bianca: Thanks.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity produced by Ubisecure. Stay up to date with episode at ubisecure.com/podcast or join us on Twitter @ubisecure and use the #LTADI. Until next time.