Identity on Blockchain - David Harney

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

This article was originally published in Blockchain Industry Review - a Crypto Curry Club Magazine published monthly and available in soft copy and the printed version.

An Interview with Featured Contributor, David Harney

President and COO - Europe of Insurance, Canada Life Group

David Harney is a lifer at Irish Life, literally. He joined the company at 17 and has stayed ever since. His rise has been of the meteorite-quality and in 2007 he was made Head of Corporate only to face into devastating loses the following year in the global financial crash. Despite or perhaps because of that, he was promoted to CEO of Irish Life Group in 2016, following its bailout by the Irish government and subsequent sale to Canadian Insurance giant, Great West Lifeco. Then just three weeks ago, he was promoted to President and CEO Europe of Great West Lifeco.

The loose coalition working alongside Irish Life are household names such as Vodafone, ESB, An Post, A&L Goodbody, Deloitte and FEXCO.

Notwithstanding his promotion since the presentation, David assures me he is staying on as champion of the Identity project – codenamed Emerald. “The project is a national one, hence the other companies involved, and the government is interested in it too. Once we figure it out, we would like to share our solution internationally,” he says.

First of all, Emerald needs to sort out definitions of identity – and credentials.

“Identity is who you are. You are born and you exist as a unique human being. Then credentials are the things that you present to prove that you who you say you are”.

“The Emerald project is to create a digital credential or set of credentials that you own and carry with you in an electronic wallet which you can share as you need.”

Currently, the situation of proving who you are online is messy with duplicate requests from company to company and even from different government departments. The holy grail is to evolve a solution that allows the individual to digitally share their data and to have it trusted.

“It’s mad because when the internet was invented no one thought about digital identity. It’s a problem that is only being addressed now by coalitions such as Emerald.”

It’s certainly true that the internet did not address these issues, in fact anonymity was a benefit where no one could tell who you were – you could even be a dog online as the New Yorker cartoon from Peter Steiner famously showed.

For David and Emerald, the focus is on the principles behind their Identity Solution. Ideas such as social good, trusted brands, an open ecosystem and not for profit predominate. The issues of identity are problematic for individuals with multiple passwords needed. On the flip side it costs corporations billions to manage their customer data and that was before GDPR came in.

“I believe that self-sovereign identity will be the next level up on GDPR. We won’t have to store our data online we can store it in our own wallets, but we can store the proof that we have the credential online via the blockchain,” he says.

So why is a company like Irish Life leading the charge?

“Like other financial companies we have to validate people before we onboard them as clients. This is a very costly business. But there is no point to us building a single solution. In fact, there is no use in groups of financial companies developing a product for their sector. It needs to be across society and with government involvement. Self-sovereign identity implies you own your data and it is private. We see our role as building the infrastructure – like a motorway or a pipe for electricity. Sure, there will be commercial applications of the infrastructure, but the actual development is open source or not for profit.

“We are using blockchain as the technology that ensures the credentials can be verified – which particular brand of blockchain I am not interested in. We are blockchain agnostic. And we are using smartphones as the ubiquitous device available to everyone.”

In terms of the roadmap, David is still very much onboard, despite his new role and is confident the group will have a pilot up and running by the end of the year.

“Maybe a mock up of the current government ID system, trial it with our customers and see how it works.”

As he said at the beginning, identity management is costing corporations billion around the globe.

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