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Facial recognition and blockchain to replace gradually paper: UN Pension Fund enters digital age

28 August 2020

Starting in 2021, the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) will launch a new app based on facial recognition and blockchain as an alternative to the paper Certificate of Entitlement (CE) that retirees are required to send every year to receive their benefits.

This is the result of a successful pilot project led by the UN Pension Fund over the past months, which involved 250 testers, with digital certificates generated from more than 40 countries.

“The use of a mobile app will provide convenience and ease-of-use for our retirees; this is one of the first deliverables of the Fund’s new strategy, aiming to simplify our client’s experience,” said Rosemarie McClean, Chief Executive of Pension Administration. Efficiency gains are also expected from the new process as the verification process on the Fund’s side will be automated.

“The new solution will create, verify and secure the digital identities of retirees – while also preventing fraud - using biometrics; identify their location with geo-location technology; and store transactions on an immutable, traceable and independently auditable ledger, using a blockchain platform,” explained Dino C. Dell’Accio, Chief Information Officer of UNJSPF, who is leading the initiative. “This project was inspired by the UN Secretary-General’s strategy on New Technologies,” Mr. Dell’Accio added.

The current paper-based process requires the use of postal mail services, which the COVID-19 situation has severely disrupted. While the Fund is overcoming this challenge in the short run, “it is time for us to move to secure digital solutions across the range of our services to participants, retirees, and beneficiaries,” Ms. McClean stated.

“We are aware that not all of our beneficiaries and retirees will be able to take advantage of this new solution,” emphasized Ms. McClean, “so the paper certificate will still be available as an option.”

The World Bank Group has expressed interest in learning from the UNJSPF “Digital Certificate of Entitlement” solution and how emerging technologies can bring innovation in the design and implementation of pension systems worldwide.

The next steps before full deployment will include an independent assessment and certification of the security, privacy, and availability controls of the solution.

The “Digital Certificate of Entitlement” project was conducted in partnership with the United Nations International Computing Centre and in cooperation with the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization.  The Fund is grateful to the many retirees worldwide from both organizations who helped test the app.

Background: the Annual CE exercise

Every year, retirees and beneficiaries in receipt of a periodic benefit must return to the Fund their duly signed and dated CE, in the original format, to confirm they are living.  The CE also serves as “proof of residence” for ongoing local track pension eligibility.

The CE exercise is a year-long cycle that is highly labor-intensive. The Fund conducts two mailings a year – the first one at the end of May and the second, smaller one at the end of September.

Every generated CE is tracked and the signatures on the CE verified manually.

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