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Digital ID Management: Why the World Needs the LEI

It is the only open, standardized and regulatory-endorsed system capable of establishing digitized trust between all legal entities, everywhere

Author: Stephan Wolf

  • Date: 2020-07-30
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There is a fundamental principle which often hinders development in the digital economy: trust. How can an organization trust that a supplier located hundreds of kilometers away is who they say they are? Or, as a person, how can I verify that the organization receiving my personal data is indeed who I believe them to be? The process of establishing a stakeholder’s legal identity digitally has become a foundational requirement for digital life; it enables the determination of ‘who’s who’ within a digital community.

In 2020, the digitization of all kinds of personal and organizational activities has accelerated, driven in no small part by regional lockdowns and social distancing measures imposed by governments in response to Covid-19. Digital innovations in IoT, blockchain, cloud computing and open APIs, among others, are also driving digital transformation, enabling new business propositions, and redefining how organizations connect and engage with one another. Amid this sea of change, more processes and interactions are making the switch to digital, and stakeholders are having to work harder than ever to mitigate doubt. As a result, digital identity management has never been more important.

Yet the field is becoming increasingly siloed. In a globalized digital economy, verifying the identity of legal entities such as customers, partners and suppliers is becoming an increasingly complex and costly challenge. For example, a survey conducted by GLEIF (see related links below) demonstrated that 50% of financial institutions use, on average, four identifiers to help identify client organizations. Even within single jurisdictions it is common for multiple identity systems to coexist, and frequently offer conflicting information.

Ultimately, this fragmentation will lead to frustration and high costs for users caused by the need to repeatedly re-establish their identity across different networks. It may also lead to monopolies, created by those that can build the biggest, fastest networks, usually with proprietary platforms and without leveraging the benefits of standards.

The LEI: A uniquely powerful proposition for digital ID management

These conditions present a unique opportunity for the Global Legal Entity Identifier System to step in and play an important enabling role. The Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) is a 20-character, alpha-numeric code based on the ISO 17442 standard that connects to key reference information to enable clear and unique identification of legally significant persons, companies and organizations collectively known as ‘legal entities’. Designed to provide greater transparency for governments and industries around the world, the Global LEI System enables the issuance of LEIs, and provides open, unrestricted access to LEI data on a global scale.

Put another way, the Global LEI System is the linchpin that connects the dots across the universe of entity identification and solves the problem of trust for all legal entities, everywhere. This means the LEI is uniquely powerful in its ability to enable digital transformation in a way that is truly interoperable for everyone.

As a regulatory-endorsed system overseen by the LEI Regulatory Oversight Commission (LEI ROC) (see related links below), it is the only system that establishes a recognized, monitored and standardized global identity for legal entities, linked to the entity’s national ID system.

It is also underpinned by open data (see related links below), meaning any person or company can access the LEI and its associated reference data. This prevents user lock-in for vendors and consumers alike. Furthermore, the system bridges traditional and online processes by serving as a tool to identify the counterparty in any transaction, and can aggregate data on legal entities held in repositories.

As the global economy continues to go digital, overcoming the challenges associated with digital identity management is crucial. The ability to accurately identify legal entities represents a huge part of that effort. Only by establishing trust between legal counterparties can the true benefits of a digitally enabled world be realized. Happily, the solutions are there already. It is now up to us to apply them appropriately.

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About the author:

Stephan Wolf is the CEO of the Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation (GLEIF). Since March 2024, he has led the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)’s Industry Advisory Board (IAB) of the Digital Standards Initiative, the global platform for digital trade standards alignment, adoption, and engagement. Before he was appointed as Chair, he had been serving as Vice-Chair of the IAB since 2023. In the same year, he was elected to the Board of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Germany.

Between January 2017 and June 2020, Mr. Wolf was Co-convener of the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 68 FinTech Technical Advisory Group (ISO TC 68 FinTech TAG). In January 2017, Mr. Wolf was named one of the Top 100 Leaders in Identity by One World Identity. He has extensive experience in establishing data operations and global implementation strategies. He has led the advancement of key business and product development strategies throughout his career. Mr. Wolf co-founded IS Innovative Software GmbH in 1989 and served first as its managing director. He was later named spokesman of the executive board of its successor, IS.Teledata AG. This company ultimately became part of Interactive Data Corporation, where Mr. Wolf held the role of CTO. Mr. Wolf holds a university degree in business administration from J. W. Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main.

Tags for this article:
Data Management, Digital Identity, Open Data, Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation (GLEIF), Know-Your-Customer (KYC), LEI Business Case, Risk Management, Level 1 / Business Card Data (Who is Who), Level 2 / Relationship Data (Who Owns Whom), LEI News