By Gareth Vaughan
The first two banks have signed up to use RealMe, a new government service developed with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that's touted as the new and secure way for New Zealanders to access services and prove their identity online.
Minister of Internal Affairs Chris Tremain announced on Wednesday evening that Kiwibank and TSB Bank will use RealMe for their online banking services. Tremain said other banks including the Government's banker Westpac, had given "very strong commitments."
"A number of banks will soon be using the RealMe service to enable online banking customers to prove their identity," Tremain said.
A joint venture between the Department of Internal Affairs and Kiwibank's parent New Zealand Post, RealMe launched this month. Some 970,000 people who had igovt logons, allowing them to use the same logon details to access participating government entities' online services, had these changed to RealMe logons from July 1.
Internal Affairs and NZ Post say people can create a RealMe login online that allows them to use one username and password to access websites using the RealMe service. A user can then go through the identity verification process, by visiting a Post Shop to show ID and have a photo taken, after which they can use their RealMe account online to apply for services from participating organisations.
So far government agencies are offering 40 services via RealMe. The service is free for individuals to use. But every time an individual proves their identity online to a business, that business is charged what an Internal Affairs spokesman describes as "an agreed fee" for that information.
Other banks mulling RealMe
A spokesman for Westpac said his bank was looking at implementing RealMe, with "the finer details" still being worked through.
A spokeswoman for ASB said her bank plans to evaluate the RealMe service within its next financial year. "Currently we are operating as usual using our branch network for identification purposes," the ASB spokeswoman added.
An ANZ spokesman said his bank was always looking at ways to improve and adapt its systems. "And RealMe presents some interesting opportunities that we will evaluate alongside a number of emerging identity validation methods in the near future."
And a BNZ spokeswoman said RealMe was "an offering we're aware of and are currently considering."
A promotional video boasts that because RealMe is government backed it'll soon be trusted by lots of businesses.
"In the future it could enable you to do lots of great things online from getting a copy of your birth certificate, to opening a new bank account, and even getting a mortgage," the video says.
Internal Affairs and NZ Post describe RealMe as "the new secure way for New Zealanders to access services and prove their identity online," and suggest it will help combat identity theft.
Tens of millions
A Internal Affairs spokesman said about $8 million had been invested by Internal Affairs and NZ Post to develop RealMe, building on previous investment over a number of years. In 2011 the then-Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy said the Government had committed $27.6 million of new funding for igovt services over the next two years.
And on Budget Day this year Tremain boasted of $14.5 million in new funding for igovt services in 2013/14. This came after Tremain had said in March that 38.6% of New Zealanders used secure online government services during the fourth quarter of 2012, up from 29.9% when measurements started in June.
In 2011 Guy said expanding the igovt services would create "great potential" for the banking and financial sectors to provide more services online. He said the Electronic Identity Verification Bill, passed last December, would enable igovt services to be used by the private sector with protection and penalties for misuse.
“The Government has also reached an agreement with New Zealand Post for them to develop and promote these services to private sector organisations, once the enabling legislation is passed," said Guy in 2011.
In his statement announcing Kiwibank and TSB had signed up to use RealMe, Tremain described it as the online equivalent to walking up to a counter and showing your driver’s licence or passport.
" It will soon be a reality that Kiwis can apply for a passport, update their electoral roll details, and open a bank account - all while staying in their living room, and using the same username and password each time they prove their identity," said Tremain.
And, he said, RealMe would enable banks to meet their obligations under the new Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation, that came into effect from June 30.
About 15 full-time staff are running RealMe across NZ Post and Internal Affairs, the Internal Affairs spokesman said.
"Their roles include operating the systems, supporting customers, issuing verified identities, product development, communications and marketing and sales. Additional staff support system development from both parties and vendors as necessary," the Internal Affairs spokesman added.
The initial expectation, he said, was for RealMe to be used for applying for services like accounts and loans.
"As the number of people with verified accounts grows, the types of services it can be used for will also expand. We are also looking at public sector opportunities, including getting passports online."
(Update adds detail from Chris Tremain's statement).
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