BMO tackles ID checks for changing gender identities, but use cases are limited

Fingerprint scan (Photo credit: Flickr / CPOA)

BMO Harris Bank, through a partnership with Mastercard, wants to solve an identity verification problem for customers who have changed their gender identities since birth.

The bank this week said if customers decide to be addressed by a name of their own choosing, BMO will interact with them accordingly, even if their legal name has not yet been changed. The approach is made possible through the adoption of a tool called True Name, which was developed by Mastercard.

“Breaking down barriers to inclusion requires bold action,” said Ernie Johannson, group head for North American Personal and U.S. Business Banking at BMO, in a statement. “We are bringing True Name to BMO to embrace our cardholders’ true identities and empower them to make real financial progress without fear of discrimination.”

BMO noted that an important use case for True Name is at the point of sale, when customers may get questioned if their outward appearance does not appear to match the customer name on the payment card. Being able to use a chosen name freely without fear of suspicion or prejudice is a key objective underlining the feature release, according to the bank.

True Name aims to allay concerns that customers won’t be served if they don’t offer their legal names during interactions with banks, whether online or in person. Use cases are restricted to physical names on cards and certain customer service interactions, and the bank did not confirm that customers would no longer be locked out of their accounts on some occasions. In particular, the back end technology layer to verify customers’ identities during transactions, including tools that guard against fraud, will remain unchanged.

“From a technical standpoint, it’s more [about the] process than anything,” Cheryl Guerin, executive vice president of marketing and communications at Mastercard, told Bank Innovation. “When somebody applies for a card, there’s an additional field that’s added to the acquisitions script — you have your legal name when you apply and you have your preferred name. The preferred name is what gets put on the card.”

BMO emphasized that True Name doesn’t amount to a compromise in data security.

“Customers will still need to bring identification to verify their legal name when requesting a new True Name debit card. When it comes time to print their debit card, customers will be asked what name they would like to have printed on their card,” Denise Press, head of retail and small business payments at BMO, said in an email to Bank Innovation.

See also: BMO rolls out photo-based autopay feature

Despite some elements of friction, according to Mastercard, True Name will still help relieve pain points for trans and non-binary customers who sometimes cannot access their accounts. But since True Name doesn’t change the back end tech layers, customers could potentially still be locked out of their accounts if, for example, their voice doesn’t match what the bank has on file. This has been a pain point for transgender customers for years, with reports of these customers being locked out of their bank accounts whenever their voice doesn’t match the one on file at their bank.

Bank Innovation has reached out to BMO on whether voice-based verification could still present a pain point for customers whose attributes may have changed.

“[Implementation] is going to vary from bank to bank,” noted Guerin, who emphasized that True Name was most applicable to digital customer acquisition and onboarding. BMO Harris Bank is the first financial institution to implement True Name for customers, along with Michigan-based Superbia Credit Union, which will launch the feature in 2020.

Kimberly Sutherland, vice president of fraud and identity management strategy at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, said True Name is a step in the right direction, because it acknowledges that banks still have work to do in verifying customers whose names or identifying attributes may have changed over time. However, she noted that changing the technology that supports banks’ capabilities to verify  identities across the full range of use cases will likely take time because of complex legal and regulatory requirements.

She added that True Name could also challenge larger financial institutions that typically have complicated organizational structures and approval processes.

“[True Name] might work well on the retail banking side, but not work well on the mortgage side of the bank. That consumer is going to expect that [the bank] knows them across every department,” she explained. “This is going to be a challenge and an opportunity for businesses to break down the silos across organizations and allow them to see customers with a much more holistic perspective.”

Despite obstacles to implementation, Mastercard emphasized that True Name is just one step in a long line of improvements currently in the works on identity management, both in-person and online. In effect, True Name is possible because Mastercard is relying less on name verification to confirm customer identities and is now leaning more on a holistic profile of the customer and their behaviors, Guerin explained.

“We’ve been reducing our reliance on the name because there’s higher security on our cards with EMV chips and contactless technology where [names] are not such a critical component at the merchant side anymore,” she said.

This story has been updated with a comment from BMO about the use case for True Name at merchant checkouts.

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