Interview with one of Rabobank’s Blockchain Specialists, David Lamers.

rabobank blockchain self-sovereign identity

One of the largest Dutch banks, Rabobank, is doing research on Self-Sovereign Identity using blockchain technology since 2016.

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a new model of identity that puts users at the center of the identity management process. Parting ways from the current systems of managing identity:

  • – the siloed model, where each user has to undergo a new registration for each service he wants to use (and those services do not “communicate” with each other); 
  • – and the federated one, where users and companies “outsource” their identity management to third parties to facilitate access to services (i.e login with Facebook, Google, etc). 

With Self-Sovereign Identity, users own their personal data and are always in control of the identity-based relationship established with other parties. A person holds their data on a digital identity wallet, like an app on his mobile device, and chooses who to share it with and how “much” of it to share.

This new model of identity management will considerably increase the privacy and security of personal data. Companies would not collect and store large databases of personal data that can always be under the risk of leaks, breaches, hacks or destruction (in case of physical databases).

When developing a Self-Sovereign Identity solution, one should use a common identity metasystem to create interoperability. This will enable a seamless experience for when users have to register or validate their identity across multiple platforms and services. Reducing bureaucracy and increasing the efficiency of identification processes.

The emergence of blockchain technology accelerated the possibility of Self-Sovereign Identity as blockchain unlocked the “functionalities for timestamping, the trust registry and revoking credentials.” (source)

Examples of Rabobank’s use cases, which they believe can bring “added value for the business lines, our customers and employees” are:

  • KYC: With their extensive “Know Your Customer” KYC and due diligence processes, Rabobank believes they could provide “directly verifiable data” that the customer could provide to third parties or use verifiable credentials in order to onboard new customers.
  • Mortgage: Mortgage flows require a lot of time and documents from several different sources. Most of those documents are not verifiable. Self-Sovereign Identity would allow for the direct verification of that data and the source.
  • HR and onboarding of employees: Rabobank wants their employees to be in control of their own data. Reusing “certificates or assessments they achieved or did at Rabobank everywhere else. Therefore we do projects in order to save certificates, diplomas, trainings and employment credentials”. They believe this innovative technology would “drastically improve employee onboarding times”.

Rabobank built a SSI backend for the identity issuer and the verifier. “For the issuing process, the issuer sends a challenge request to the holder – asking for a DID [Decentralized Identifier] for each credential so they can be revoked independently whilst maintaining privacy. The holder sends the DIDʼs back in the form of self-issued verifiable credentials encapsulated in a verifiable presentation. The issuer then issues credentials on those DIDʼs and sends a verifiable presentation back to the holder. The verifier uses the same process, but the challenge request has different content. So, the holder sends a verifiable presentation with credentials retrieved from the issuer in the previous step.”

Rabobank SSI

We had the opportunity to have a (virtual) sit down with David Lamers, Blockchain Specialist at Rabobank, about the work his team, the “Blockchain Acceleration Lab” and the bank have been doing regarding Self-Sovereign Identity.

What are your responsibilities at Rabobank?

As Blockchain Specialist at Rabobank you have a very versatile job so my daily tasks differ a lot, which I love. The blockchain team is researching the possibilities and opportunities blockchain can offer for the different business lines within the Rabobank. So, for me it’s important to be aware of the latest developments in the blockchain space, on technical as well as application level.

My responsibilities lie mainly within the identity and real estate finance domains. Within the blockchain team, named “Blockchain Acceleration Lab” we are developing a blockchain agnostic self-sovereign identity solution for PoC and pilot goals. I’m the linking pin between the developers and the interested business lines, also I’m working on our blockchain identity strategy. We have created a list of potential applications for SSI within the bank or for our clients. All projects are collaborations with (inter)national partners since you can’t do SSI alone. Being aware of all SSI developments and startups around the world is also important to me.

What does Self-Sovereign Identity mean to you?

For me SSI is the future step in building a society where one can exchange his personal data in a safe way, creating customer friendly and frictionless processes. SSI is the next step in the evolution of (digital) identity management. This evolution is often described as movement from siloed identities, to federated identities, to user managed identities and in the future self-sovereign identity. In the SSI scenario, the end-user should be fully in control of his own data (according to the design principles of Christopher Allen) and so not having to rely on a centralized authority. 

Do you remember when you first heard of SSI and what interested you in it?

After already experimenting with cryptocurrencies in 2013 I became really interested in blockchain technology in 2016. It was back then when I first read about SSI. Identity was an important topic in blockchain and players like uPort had a great vision. It was the early stage and solutions were not fully shaped. It is great to be so closely involved in the developments. Standards and protocols are much more defined, although still not fully, and we are working on an implementation. In this playing field it is still experimenting, changing and adapting, which makes it a wonderful experience and challenge.

In the field of Digital Identity, what is the question that people should be asking more but aren’t?

People should be more aware of the possibilities of digital twins. After having shifted towards semi-structured, non-cryptographically verifiable data that maybe matches the person that is in front of you (or the computer), digital twins can provide new opportunities. But that’s more for the business side. On the customer side, one should ask themselves about the sensitivity of the data they share with everyone. More and more data breaches are taking place which compose a risk to society. GDPR already requires businesses already a little more to take awareness of their customer privacy data, but customers should play a bigger role in this.

Why is Rabobank interested in blockchain technology?

Rabobank’s innovation department always focuses on the newest technologies and trends. Within the tech lab we focus on new and trending technologies like Blockchain. In the early stages it was already clear that blockchain could provide a wide range of opportunities for Rabobank. For example, which facilitates a trade platform using blockchain (already in production). provides more trust and transparency in open account trade.

How important is Self-Sovereign Identity for Rabobank and what are the key drivers for embracing SSI?

At the blockchain innovation conference our CEO Wiebe Draijer was interviewed (in Dutch). He is asked how blockchain can support the Rabobank as cooperation. He takes the example of identity, explains the principles of SSI and recalls blockchain as enabling technology. The potential value SSI can have for our business processes as well as for the societal contribution are example drivers.

What needs to be true for SSI to achieve mass adoption, and what uses cases you think will gain early traction?

In my opinion, interoperability is key. We see a wide range of initiatives and explorations, but if none is compatible with the other an adoption risk will arise. Therefore, we designed the Universal Ledger Agent (ULA) at Rabobank. This component is integrated in the app as well as verifier side and has the ability to store and verify credentials in different ledgers using different standards. This is realized with the use of plugins, an example plugin we developed is W3C verifiable credentials using the Ethereum blockchain or Sovrin.

Rabobank is developing a SSI wallet focused on HR. Can you tell us more about it?

HR Innohub is focusing on how new technologies can empower our employees. In our innovation process we do ideation games and an employee identity wallet was one of the use cases with HR on the closest horizon. They gathered a lot of interested stakeholders from other companies and educational institutions with whom we have a regular meetup. I really enjoy these meetups; everyone is really engaged and keen to deliver input. In Q4 2018 we had the first proof of concept: we integrated two educational institutions in order to deliver credentials to the wallet. We learned a lot of lessons and are now ready for the first pilot with Randstad. With the wallet, one holds all his verifiable credentials like diplomas, certificates and evaluations from issuers in an app and can share these easily with others. All are directly verifiable to improve employee onboarding and compliance and the employee is empowered with his credentials throughout his career.

What is the importance of creating an interoperable ecosystem in Rabobank’s SSI initiatives and how are you aiming to do so?

Important is that it should be possible to store different types of credentials in one wallet. In collaborations we started to face the challenge that each partner was interested in a different SSI technique/ledger. That’s why we designed the Universal Ledger Agent. In this way the consumer will not notice different techniques being used in the backend.

You wrote in your paper that you are “also looking at providing a nationwide solution with governmental partners. Together with government and banks we explore the possible setup of a dedicated entity for Self-Sovereign Identity. An important question remains who the provider should be and so the owner of such an Self-Sovereign Identity solution.” Why is that an important question?

The answer is twofold. On the one hand you don’t want to rely on a closed solution since it creates a dependency. So, an open source solution is required which is secure enough to handle your personal data. But this might create a liability towards the delivering party which can be a challenge to open source it. Also, important questions are how the key storage and recovery (backup) of verifiable credentials are implemented.

Apart from your work at Rabobank, what applications for SSI really excite you?

Personally, the most exciting use cases are the ones with societal impact. Tykn and ID2020 are great examples of how SSI can be meaningful for e.g. refugees. I’m also involved in cases for SSI within Rabobank focused on societal impact. Since they are still in the initial phase, I cannot tell you that much about it.

What are your hopes for the digital identity field in the future?

A single and interoperable digital identity being my digital twin which I can use in a safe way and is decentralized. From a business perspective I can use these to create customer friendly and frictionless processes and rely on signed, structured data from trusted sources.

Working at Rabobank, according to you how does the banking domain views SSI? Are they excited about it? Are they skeptical about it? Are they okay with losing the control over their user’s data? Are they happy with handing over the responsibility of keeping the data secure to the user’s?

At Rabobank they are very curious about the opportunities SSI can offer. There are a lot of roles a bank can take in the SSI ecosystem. We have identified the different roles and the relevant business lines are getting familiar with SSI. Rabobank is really focused on innovation and is for sure not skeptical. For instance, one of our four strategic pillars are excellent customer focus. We want to give our customers full control over their own data, and if they for instance want a verifiable credential of their wealth this should be possible. This because we are customer oriented and also see opportunities for our business processes.

We would like to thank David Lamers and Rabobank for this insightful interview and for sharing their ideas and knowledge with all of us!

Tykn is a digital identity company. We just launched Ana, a digital identity management platform that allows organisations to issue tamper-proof digital credentials which are verifiable anywhere, at any time. If you’re keen on reading more we suggest you check out our Blog. There are interviews with Daniel Hardman, Elizabeth M. Renieris, Kim Hamilton Duffy and many more. There’s also our Definitive Guide to Identity Management with Blockchain and the Ultimate Beginners Guide to Self-Sovereign Identity.

Tim Bouma Interview (Senior Policy Analyst for Identity Management at the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Government of Canada)

We started this interview with Tim Bouma talking about his expertise in digital identity and we ended up trying to solve the puzzle of a mysterious death. 

On July 8, 1917, Canadian painter Tom Thomson disappeared while on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake. Eight days later, his body was found in the lake, with a four-inch cut on his right temple. Although the cause of death was determined as “accidental drowning”, the mystery of Tom Thomson’s death, and the speculation of a potential murder, is something that persists in Canadian lore.

Tim Bouma had been a fan of Thomson’s work for years. Reading biographies and collecting sketches of his work. Being a cybersecurity expert specialized in Digital Identity, Tim had a splinter of an idea forming in his mind: creating a fictional digital identity. The mystery of Thomson’s death created the perfect canvas. From March to July that year, during 100 uninterrupted days, Tim Bouma tweeted fictional journal entries channeling Tom Thomson’s persona and what he might be doing that day.

That twitter account ultimately led Tim to write the book Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring (Burnstown Publishing House), that received praises from renowned Canadian author Roy MacGregor.

LESS Identity

But less about fiction writing and more about digital identity. Tim Bouma coined the phrase Legally-Enabled Self-Sovereign Identity. LESS Identity. That is how he wants his identity to be. These are the four characteristics of a LESS Identity:

  • Minimum Disclosure: Being able to disclose the minimum personal data possible in order to use/access a service.
  • Full Control: The user must have full control over what personal information he chooses to disclose (at any point in time).
  • Necessary Proof: In case the verifying party needs proof about the claim a user is making, the user has to be able to provide proof that sustain his claim. (i.e: attestations by a legal authority, etc)
  • Legally-Enabled: The existence of a legal framework that protects the users and the organisations providing the services while using this digital identity.

Bouma is a proponent of Self-Sovereign Identity. An approach to Digital Identity that puts the user at the center of the locus of control.

The locus of control is the “degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control” (Source).

Self-Sovereign Identity removes the middle man as a vehicle of trust. An individual can prove claims about him or herself to an organisation without the need for that organisation to verify the authenticity of the claim with a third party. This is done through the use of blockchain technology.

Though Self-Sovereign Identity still has some issues to be figured out. Like how to make sure that a digital identity corresponds to an existing person in the analogue world. According to Tim, humans will always have to be involved in the “origin” moment. The initial registration process of the digital identity. “However, once that origin registration is carried out, your digital identity can be easily assured on an ongoing basis, using cryptography, verifiable claims, etc. But that digital identity, to be trusted, must be traceable back to that origin registration.” (Source) 

Pan-Canadian Trust Framework

Tim is also one of the masterminds behind the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework

Given Canada’s different levels of Government – Provincial, Territorial and Federal – this framework aims to avoid the creation of program-centred identities and ensure “the integrity of identity management business processes”, so that everyone can rely on each other’s digital identities.

Through this framework, Canadians will be able to “seamlessly access government services on-demand across jurisdictions in a matter of moments” (Source) and the government will be able to accept “trusted digital identities from other jurisdictions, greatly streamlines program enrolment processes and reduces costs — because the client is already known and trusted.” (Source).

The ultimate goal is to be able to use a Provincially or Territorially issued digital identity to access a federal program. What Canada’s government see as a “big win for all Canadians”. (Source)


What are your responsibilities as Senior Policy Analyst for Identity Management at the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Government of Canada?

My role is to develop identity management policy instruments for Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). TBS is a central agency for the Government of Canada and is responsible for management oversight for federal departments and agencies. Our policy instruments are the basis for aligning identity management capabilities across government. We also work with the Provinces and Territories to ensure alignment across Canada, which we call the Pan-Canadian Approach. Much of the work on the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework evolved from the collaborative work we have done with our different levels of government.

In the field of Digital Identity, what is the question that people should be asking more but aren’t?

The question people should be asking – ‘Why are you setting up your own identity management systems?’ If you are setting up your own systems, you are placing an even greater burden on your clients, who have to prove themselves one more time, and remember yet another password.

What are the specific roadblocks other people in this space should look out for?

The identity management technology is largely there. Centralized and federated approaches have existed for years. Decentralized and self-sovereigns are rapidly evolving and will become mainstream soon. So the roadblocks are largely conceptual – it’s about understanding how your program or business fits into a larger ecosystem. Two decades ago, during the dot-com boom, everyone was setting up their own servers, now nobody does that – it’s a cloud now. Soon identity, or self-sovereign-identity will be available as a utility and controlled by the users.

What are your hopes for the digital identity field in the future?

My hope is that Canadians will be able to access services without having second thought to their safety and security. The systems that will enable digital identity, or more generally verifiable credentials, will be open, interoperable and be as ubiquitous as GPS.

What is the book you have recommended most to others?

I could recommend my own book that would be self-serving. The latest book I am reading is The Blockchain and the New Architecture for Trust, by Kevin Werbach. A book which I really enjoyed, challenging my perspective, was Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. I also have a few technical books on the go. I can’t say enough good things about Mastering Bitcoin, by Andreas Antonopoulos. Finally, for relaxation, I subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and churn through CIA spy-thrillers.

We, at Tykn, would like to thank Tim Bouma for his time and for sharing his ideas and knowledge with us. Thank you, Tim! Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

Tykn is a digital identity company. We just launched Ana, a digital identity management platform that allows organisations to issue tamper-proof digital credentials which are verifiable anywhere, at any time. If you’re keen on reading more we suggest you check out our Blog. There are interviews with Daniel Hardman, Elizabeth M. Renieris, Kim Hamilton Duffy and many more. There’s also our Definitive Guide to Identity Management with Blockchain and the Ultimate Beginners Guide to Self-Sovereign Identity.