Embedded finance is great and I love having apps on my phone that take care of the interface to the tedious world of banks and money so that I don’t have to deal with them. But embedded finance doesn’t get me out of the house. And it can’t get me in to watch a soccer game. It can’t get me onto a plane. Perhaps in the post-COVID world, embedded health will be more important than embedded finance.
Think about it. What’s the point of having all sorts of clever pre-pay, instant-pay and pay-later mechanisms that I can use to buy train tickets if I am not allowed on a train? Why bother with fancy QR code contact-free dining experiences if I am not allowed into a restaurant? How do I benefit from sophisticated electronic tickets dropped directly into my phone when I am not allowed into the concert hall?
What is really needed to ease the economy back on track in the recurring pandemic, new normal world is the ability to show a vaccination record as well as a plane ticket and a negative test result along with an ID to get into a bar.
In fact, I might go so far as to predict that the virus shock may well mean a quantum leap in strategy in the world of digital identity: what if it is not finance or government, as most of us had assumed, but travel and hospitality that drives digital identity into the mass market?
It is actually pretty easy to imagine the customer journey with embedded health. I go online to buy a ticket to see Hawkwind in concert at the London Palladium in May but in order to check out I must first present a certificate to show that I have been vaccinated against COVID-19 (I’m afraid that the Hawkwind fan demographic renders this necessary) and a certificate to show that I have been vaccinated against Yellow Fever or whatever else the venue needs. I present the digital certificates and go about my day.
That is quite easy to draw as some boxes and arrows mapping out a customer experience journey on a whiteboard, but what has to happen to make it a reality? That’s where things become a little more complex.
Credentials, Claims and Certificates
There are some well understood issues around identification and authentication but to my mind these are largely solved. There are plenty of companies that can do digital onboarding pretty efficiently (indeed, I am an advisor to the board of one of them, Au10tix) and there are plenty of companies that can do authentication: If I could have used “sign in with Apple
(Just to divert for a moment to be specific about language: I use claim to mean the process of presenting a credential to be verified and I use credential to mean some attribute that has been attested to by somebody that the verifier can trust. By trust, of course, I mean “can sue for large amounts of money if the data turns out to be incorrect”.)
If a theatre, or more likely a theatre’s merchant services processor (MSP), wants me to show that I have been vaccinated then both the claim process and the claim data have to be in some sort of standard format. This is why the foundation of the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) is so important. This is a coalition of public and private partners including Microsoft
FHIR stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, a standards framework created by Health Level Seven International (HL7), a not-for-profit, ANSI-accredited organisation developing standards for the exchange, integration, sharing and retrieval of electronic health information. The idea, essentially, is to group a set of FHIR content resources (e.g. immunisation or observation) for presentation in the form of a verifiable credential.
The New York Times
Start With Travel
It makes sense to have a sector-specific identity together with sector-specific credentials for travel. The obvious people to co-ordinate this would be the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and, indeed, the COVID-driven need for a such credentials has led IATA and British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), to starting work together in this direction. I hope they choose to use open standards for this Travel Pass Initiative. Travel Pass brings together four interoperable “modules” that combine to deliver a practical solution to get people moving again. These modules are:
- An up-to-date list of requirements for travel (i.e. what vaccines or tests are necessary for travel on specific routes) so that travellers know what they need to do to travel;
- A registry of health centres that can carry out vaccinations and tests that travellers need;
- A contactless travel app for travellers so that they can find out what the travel requirements are, where they can get the tests and vaccines and store the results;
- An application for labs to report results.
Emirates and Etihad have both announced that they will trial the IATA Travel Pass soon. Emirates will implement the first phase in Dubai in April and will use the app for the validation of COVID-19 PCR tests before departure. Using the app, which will automagically post details to the check in system, passengers travelling from Dubai will be able to share their test status directly with the airline before reaching the airport.
So if this works for getting on planes… why not use the same registries and APIs to power applications for restaurants and pubs to get the economy moving again? I’d be more than happy to be required to show my test status to get into the Etihad to watch the mighty Manchester City via the Travel Pass, or my British Airways app, or my Man City app or whatever other convenient application was accessing standardised VCI vaccination and test records through the IATA API. And if IATA and VCI together create a global standardised platform then the opportunity for fintechs to exploit the combination of embedded health and embedded finance together in apps will be enormous.