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Canada’s biggest banks marked the official launch of the Verified.Me digital identity network on Wednesday, following years of development and testing with their partner SecureKey Technologies Inc.

The banks see Verified.Me as the beginning of a more secure Canadian identity ecosystem for a world where technology is making it easier for criminals to steal personal data and use it to create false identities.

“We think solving this problem – about proving it’s me and making it harder for the bad guy to (pretend to) be me–— is a problem of our age that we have to solve,” SecureKey chief executive Greg Wolfond said in an interview.

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The Toronto-based company is building on the success of its SecureKey Concierge service, in use since 2012, that allows consumers to use their banking credentials to gain easier online access to Canada Revenue Agency services.

Verified.Me goes a step further by making it easier for individuals to provide proof of their identity, using the information they’ve already provided to their financial institutions.

In essence, the Verified.Me smartphone app connects with participating financial institutions and removes many of the steps that are currently required to establish a person’s identity.

The platform also promises to give the users control over what information their banks will share with third parties that use Verified.Me to transact business with consumers.

In the long run, that could include applying for a mortgage, renting an apartment or obtaining a driver’s licence.

But currently only a limited number of financial products or services are available through Verified.Me.

“The current capabilities … on Day 1 are registering their insurance with Sun Life, for example, and checking their credit score with Equifax,” said Greg Elcich, CIBC vice-president for enterprise innovation.

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“But this is about building out an ecosystem around identity,” he said. “This service will save Canadians time with everyday tasks that they do…That’s the real vision here.”

CIBC, Desjardins, RBC, Scotiabank and TD said they’d have Verified.Me running effective Wednesday while BMO Bank of Montreal and National Bank of Canada said they will join the network in the near future.

Investors in the Verified.Me consortium include the banks and the Desjardins co-operative, the Telus and Rogers communications companies, the Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit card businesses, and Intel, the semiconductor giant.

Rami Thabet, RBC’s vice-president for digital products, said the financial institutions want to build a Canadian digital identity ecosystem.

“There are quite a few nuances to how Canadians are accessing digital properties and accessing financial services digitally (that were) a key aspect of the design of the platform and to ensure that it met client needs in the future.”

He said Canada’s financial institutions invest heavily in cybersecurity to protect consumer data and privacy.

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“This has been a core underpinning of the (Verified.Me) platform, where it’s been designed with privacy and security in mind from the get-go,” Thabet said.

Andrew McFarlane, managing director of Accenture Financial Services, said the lack of a consumer-friendly identity authentication service has delayed European take-up of newer ways to make payments with electronic devices.

“Unless it’s easier and more convenient than using your card, people will continue to use the same payment methods that they have today,” McFarlane said.

But the challenge, he added, is to “get the authentication requirements right while still keeping an eye on fraud and making sure you’re still safe and secure.”

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