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Modernizing pension processes: UNJSPF and ICC launch pilot project for facial recognition

29 January 2020

Blockchain, Biometrics and Mobile Apps for Pensioners

In line with the UN Secretary-General’s strategy on innovation, the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) is exploring innovative technologies to help certify the identity of its retirees and beneficiaries, validate their “proof of existence”, and confirm their registered place of residence. The UNJSPF in collaboration with the International Computing Centre (ICC) created and tested a Proof of Concept (POC) prototype using biometrics, blockchain, geo-location, and mobile apps.

​The reliable and consistent processing of benefit payments requires an annual verification of over 70 thousand beneficiaries located in more than 190 countries. The Fund must confirm that each beneficiary is still alive (proof of existence). For the last 70 years, this confirmation has been conducted through a manual process, using a paper-based form (i.e., Certificate of Entitlement). Every beneficiary has to return a signed Certificate of Entitlement, which is currently transmitted by regular mail.

Additionally, the UNJSPF offers two payment systems to its retirees and beneficiaries: (i) A dollar track system, where benefits are based on the cost of living in the United States; and (ii) A local track system, that converts the value of the dollar track to a local currency and cost of living. When pension benefits are paid following the local track, in addition to the “proof of existence”, the Fund must also confirm the residence of the beneficiary (proof of residence).

The UNJSPF started to explore the adoption of modern technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Certificate of Entitlement process. In discussions with ICC, a POC began using state-of-the-art technologies.

The POC has confirmed the value of digital identity and Blockchain technologies to automate the Certificate of Entitlement process with secure mechanisms that create traceable, immutable, and independently auditable evidence.

This proof of concept aims to overcome the limitations of the existing manual process and prevent new risks from happening, which could hamper the flow of entitlements. It included the use of:

  • Biometrics, for personal identification and “proof of existence”;
  • Blockchain, for the creation of traceable, immutable and independently auditable evidence;
  • Geo-location for the confirmation of a “proof of residence”; and a
  • Mobile application to provide convenience and ease-of-use for the beneficiaries.

The POC was a success and was introduced at the annual United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board Meeting in August 2019, as a valuable solution to improve pension processes worldwide.

The Fund is now taking steps to start the pilot project with a view, if successful, to implement this solution for all new retirees. Select UN entities/member organizations have been contacted to take part in this project, and WFP has just confirmed their participation. Their new pensioners will be offered the opportunity – on a voluntary basis – to use and test a new approach aiming at saving time and simplifying the certificate of entitlement process.


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