Partnership to expand Mobile ID use in banking illustrates innovations underway at the FinTech Innovation Hub

Mobile devices, online banking and payment apps such as Apple Pay or CashApp have decreased the use of paper currency, but what if technology could also help safely and securely verify identities to bring services to the underserved?

That’s exactly what the engineering, business and financial technology (also known as fintech) experts at the University of Delaware and the new FinTech Innovation Hub at the University’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus are hoping to achieve. One of the first examples of the effort is a project now underway to develop a new application for using mobile identification in banking and notary services.

Led by UD’s Nektarios Georgios Tsoutsos, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the project is a partnership with IDEMIA, the developer of the Delaware Mobile ID app, and supported by funding provided by Discover Bank to The Venture Center, an Arkansas-based entrepreneur support organization. The team aims to utilize about $250,000 in funding to pilot a project with a Wilmington-based credit union to develop a secure way to virtually open a bank account with mobile identification.

“The challenges surrounding financial health are complex, and it will take diverse approaches and talent to have impact,” UD Provost Laura Carlson said. “The IDEMIA collaboration brings UD student and faculty expertise to these challenges and represents an incredible model of partnership for the FinTech Innovation Hub and its mission.”

This is the first funded project at UD in collaboration with FinTech Innovation Hub (pictured), with partners that include IDEMIA, Discover Bank, The Venture Center and the Delaware Technology Park.

In the First State, the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles is the only entity currently using Mobile ID services, which allow people to use an electronic version of a driver’s license through a phone app instead of having a hard copy on hand. Tsoutsos said that by expanding Mobile ID uses to local banking services — such as simply opening up a new bank account beyond normal business hours — they can also expand access and safely simplify the banking process for those who may not otherwise be able to access these resources due to working hours or transportation barriers.

“This type of technology can help provide access to banking for people who may not have had it before and help with notarizing a document for those with limited transportation means or time to travel,” said Matthew Parks, vice president for CRA and retail banking at Discover Bank. “That is why we provided funding for the project as well as worked to connect companies in the area in order to work through test cases.”

Tsoutsos said while it’s possible to open a bank account today from a phone or computer, there are potential security problems. Banks don’t always trust the credit report-driven questions and answers — like the prompts that ask a person to pick an address they lived at previously or the make and model of a car they once owned. But they do trust the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“We are proud of the fact that Delaware was one of the first states to pilot and launch Mobile ID,” said Jana Simpler, director of the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles. “We look forward to seeing many positive results from IDEMIA’s partnership with the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering as they develop a prototype demo web application continuing to expand relying party integrations and provide additional ways for Delaware residents to protect their identity during online transactions.”

Safe and secure Mobile ID applications, like the one used by the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles for driver’s licenses, could also help users gain access more easily to digital financial services.

Tsoutsos, with the help of three doctoral students and one master’s student, is building the web application, which would most likely be used on a mobile device but could also be used on a desktop or laptop. The application is complex, he explained, because it must include a lot of cybersecurity and advanced cryptography to ensure the driver’s license data is totally safe.

“Everything will have multiple layers of encryption,” he said. “Not even us on the server will be able to access this information online.”

The application could also be useful in digital exchanges of legal documents, like those used by mobile notary services, Tsoutsos said.

“This project is a great convergence of IDEMIA’s industry leading work in digital identity and our work on behalf of financial institutions and payment processors,” said Hal Wiediger, senior vice president of client success at IDEMIA Identity & Security. “Delaware should be proud to be an early adopter of this technology while working to improve the customer experience through the development of this prototype. Having use cases that prioritize security and convenience go a long way in growing adoption of [Mobile ID], and we are proud to work alongside the University of Delaware on this exciting project.”

The project is also an opportunity to showcase ways that businesses can work with UD to develop various financial technologies, Parks and others said.

“This project is a perfect model of what we’re trying to do,” said Mike Bowman with the Delaware Technology Park on the STAR Campus. He described the FinTech Innovation Hub as a “trifecta” that is taking the academic excellence in engineering and business from UD faculty and students and applying it to a financial equity problem while engaging corporate partners.

The University, in collaboration with its stakeholders, aims to create a “national center of excellence” focused on financial equity, explained Tracy Shickel, UD’s associate vice president of corporate engagement. That means having representatives from industry, government and academia collaboratively working together to seek solutions for complex fintech problems.

“This will be the first of many, many opportunities, particularly between UD faculty and external supporters,” she said. “We’re trying to move the needle on the nation’s financial health crisis, and we’ve got the talent to do it.”

Article by Maddy Lauria | Illustrations by Joy Smoker | January 17, 2023