This post is an excerpt from an upcoming report entitled The Current and Future State of Digital Wallets, which is being shared here as a 16-part series. To receive a copy of the report, please register here and we will get the current draft sent out immediately and a PDF of the final report when it is ready. This is the first post. For the next post click here.


Executive Summary

The World Economic Forum states that we are in the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Technologies are converging and provide immense potential for shifting how we can improve every aspect of our lives.

Underneath all of that technology lies the internet, which has a flaw that could have been fatal – until recently it has lacked a built-in digital identity. Hacks to get around this missing piece have resulted in huge security gaps and abusive digital relationships. The availability of a Digital Identity that makes personal and business sense is removing this shortfall and multi-billion dollar industries will be impacted.

Organizations and people who understand how digital identity works will see the early benefits and likely receive more of the benefits. The stakes are enormous:

“digital ID has the potential to unlock economic value equivalent to 3 to 13 percent of GDP in 2030”

– McKinsey Global Institute

The sponsors of this study recognize that a Digital Wallet is a requirement for us to be able to assert the appropriate control of our Digital Identities. Without a Digital Wallet, which allows us to control our Digital Identities – both at a personal and business level – we won’t be able to realize the benefits.

The study culminates with this open report. This report provides:

  • definition of what a Digital Wallet is
  • clarification about where the Digital Wallet industry and ecosystem is currently
  • guidance for organizations to move forward as the Digital Wallet ecosystem forms

The Digital Wallet ecosystem is in a very early stage. Organizations that are true innovators will find a rich and frothy environment that they can work in, influence, and drive forward. Those organizations that only use “innovation theatre” should stay away for now and let the market formalize. Be realistic – innovators are a very small percentage (2.5%) of society.

Simple use cases are finding success and the learning is accelerating. Small projects are gaining traction. The Digital Wallet ecosystem is shifting rapidly and leaders are emerging. Understanding where you and your organization fit is crucial.

This report aims to be a starting point. The Digital Wallet space is immature and many predictions here will be wrong – either in timing or even in intent. However, the shift to a world where we have a Digital Wallet that empowers us is happening. We aim to provide the basics so you and your organization can begin to plan, explore, and learn.

Introduction

The world of Digital Identity is changing. People and Organizations are beginning to assert control over their digital lives. Centralized services still dominate but the advent of self-sovereign identity and verifiable credentials have changed the landscape.

Our ability to control what information we share is increasing – from identity documentation to various forms and data that others need. We can accomplish much more in this new and rapidly evolving world.

The experts are creating the underlying technologies from blockchain/distributed ledgers through distributed key management. These are the building blocks that nobody will see in the near future.

Governments are issuing Digital Identity Documents including digital driver’s licences. Organizations are issuing various credentials for employment, education, and more. We’re seeing digital ownership become more common.

We’re told that our Digital Wallet is where we put these things to keep them safe and use them.

But what is a Digital Wallet? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen different definitions.

As leaders in Canada and abroad met at the Internet Identity Workshop #25 the ideas behind “what a digital wallet is” began to form. Global leaders in the identity space, particularly those in the Sovrin/Evernym, uPort, and Microsoft realm had early ideas about what the advent of Verifiable Credentials would mean to People and Organizations.

Verifiable CredentialA Credential is a set of one or more claims made by an issuer. A Verifiable Credential is a tamper-evident Credential that has authorship that can be cryptographically verified.
W3C Verifiable Claims Working Group

It is clear that Digital Wallets form the basis of how how we issue, store, share, and verify these verifiable credentials. Without a Digital Wallet we can’t really use the verifiable credentials effectively, nor do many other things in our digital lives.

Digital Wallets are clearly critical to the evolving digital landscape. They are poorly understood, though.

The simple fact is that as an industry, we do not know what a Digital Wallet is or what a Digital Wallet needs to become.

In order for Organizations to plan for their digital future a deep understanding was needed, of what a Digital Wallet really is. A study was commissioned and this report is one of the outputs of that study.

This report aims to lay down a baseline understanding of what a Digital Wallet is. This definition will not survive for long. The study sponsors went into this study knowing that the landscape is changing. This report serves as one of many pieces that will hopefully help define where we all need to go.

The report is structured to lay down what a Digital Wallet is and what it can do, then discuss where things currently stand. Finally we provide guidance on approaches that organizations and businesses can take.

Our current understanding of what a Digital Wallet is will evolve quickly. In time this report will be revised or replaced.

​2.1.​ Structure of the Report

This report is set up to provide two main things:

  • Technical – explanation of the various functionalities and capabilities of Digital Wallets – that either exist now or will need to be built in order to realize the Digital Wallet ecosystem.
  • Business – advice on approaches to build out a Digital Wallet system – there are many capabilities required but building them in a particular order will allow the ecosystem to grow faster than it would without considering the bigger picture.

The technical sections are intended to provide a few levels of detail:

  • What is A Digital Wallet – we go through a high level view of what Digital Wallets are, covering the major capabilities and pieces.
  • Digital Wallet Deeper Detail – we cover, in depth, many of the capabilities that are crucial for Digital Wallets.
  • Agents’ Deeper Detail – Agents are unique enough that we go into depth about many different kinds of Agents. Entire businesses and likely industries will form around these Agents.

The business sections discuss where things are (hint: it is VERY early in the creation of a new ecosystem), where we need to go, and a recommended path to get there:

  • State of Technology – we will describe what the current state of affairs is as far as the capabilities that are needed for basic and advanced Wallets.
  • Art of the Possible – leans into looking at what a Digital Wallet enables – and where the bleeding edge of research and thinking is headed.
  • Business & Markets – describes where organizations can focus efforts to explore and build capabilities.
  • The Upcoming Wallet Wars – in this short section we’ll introduce the idea that the Digital Wallet space is going to see activity that is similar to the early browser wars where vendors and consortia battle things out to win your business and use.

​2.2.​ Report/Project Approach

In fall 2018 a group of Canadian companies banded together to commission a focused effort which would produce a report for the global community that gathered various thoughts, ideas, and approaches which would address the evolving needs of a Digital Wallet. These project sponsors recognized early that a “Wallet” was not a small project and that no single organization could create a full Wallet. Even the largest organizations don’t have the resources to create a full Digital Wallet. Nor do they have the mandate to control something that is becoming so important for society.

The market requirements for Digital Wallets were researched and determined to be quite broad. The project team engaged in the research report realized that the broad discussions about Digital Wallets needed more depth and more breadth as many communities use the term “wallet” and “Digital Wallet” quite differently. The project sponsors recognized that the community needed a beginning point for discussion.

Through internet research that identified over 250 blockchain/crypto/wallet projects the beginning of a simple delineation formed. The “crypto” space is well served at the moment with Cryptocurrency Wallet applications that meet the needs of the “crypto” community – as obscure as those tools are. As an example, the following 19 logos were gathered under a quick “get me wallet logos that work on a white background in less than half an hour” – providing proof that the Crypto Wallet space is truly enormous.

The line between a Crypto Wallet and a Digital Wallet began to form. This report focuses on the non-crypto aspects of a Wallet (see 3.2. What Aren’t We Covering).

Following the internet research engagement a large number of thought leaders were contacted to discuss what their ideas were about Digital Wallets. Whitepapers, blogs, podcasts, Twitterati, and more were engaged. Discussions on the open internet and in private ensued. Additionally work was undertaken at Rebooting Web of Trust 7 (Toronto, Ontario 26-28 September 2018) and presentations at the Internet Identity Workshop (Mountain View, California 23-25 October 2018).

In December 2018 the project sponsors met to create another delineation – between what content would be private and public. The overall decision was that the vast majority of information would be publicly released. The strategies and tactics that applied to the project sponsors will remain private.


This post is part of a 16-part series. This is the first post. For the next post click here.