North Macedonia is Pioneering a Digital Identity Solution in the Public Sector

Macedonian citizens will soon be able to digitally obtain documents from public institutions, remotely open a new bank account, or get a prepaid or postpaid mobile phone account. All of this will be possible with a new project implemented by the Government of North Macedonia and digital payments and services company Mastercard. The country is starting a pilot project that includes a range of solutions that will advance the country’s digital economy aspirations. 

On February 7, Ministers of Information Society and Administration and Finance, Damjan Mancevski and Nina Angelovska signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mastercard regional manager for Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo – Vanya Manova, which will enable Mastercard to establish a modern digital identity technology in the country.  The service will become available later this year. 

Better experience for citizens and businesses 

Mastercard’s partnership with Macedonian authorities aims to bring local digital identity and related services, like digital document signing and verification, which can be used across a number of day-to-day activities. By opening an application on the mobile device, the users can scan their ID card or passport. That way, the data is being checked and the camera on the mobile device turns on and verifies whether this is the same person. It all happens in real-time. “This means that you no longer need to use flash drives, tokens, paper documents, or have a physical presence for the institution to identify you,” explained Damjan Mancevski, Minister of Information Society and Administration. “Propelling our economy is critical. But to meet our potential, everyone must establish a digital trust service foundation.” 

The Minister of Finance Nina Angelovska expects that this partnership will provide a digital identity service that improves the everyday experience of citizens while increasing the efficiency of public and private services on the road to greater economic growth, noted.  

“Since this solution is interoperable, this means that Macedonian citizens will be able to identify themselves (to digitally stamp different documents, also cross-border) to companies and governments, which are not only in North Macedonia,” explained Vanya Manova, Country Manager for Mastercard Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo. The pilot project in Macedonia is part of a broader initiative of the digital service company MasterCard and similar projects are underway in other countries too. “We have the opportunity to build a digital innovation hub by introducing digital identity services and trusted services that are locally, regionally and globally accepted,” stated Charles Walton, MasterCard’s Vice President for Digital Identity.  

A step closer to EU 

This first-of-its-kind effort will go by the recently created digital identity regulations in North Macedonia and broader European eIDAS (electronic identification, authentication and trust services) standards. Once launched, it will also enable seamless digital interactions between businesses and government agencies across the region and around the globe. “For Noth Macedonia, this is also an important step towards the EU integration as this technology and service are aligned with all EU regulations and will allow citizens to identify themselves in front of any EU country authority. This will also allow business transactions between the Noth Macedonian and the EU businesses,” explain Prof. George Dimitrov, digital identity expert, and member of the board of technology company Evrotrust.

According to him, to make this possible in a bit over a year Noth Macedonia has passed a new digital identification regulation, and also managed to create a centralized e-government portal that allows one point of access to different registers and thus makes the implementation of such a technology possible. 

In the meantime, Bulgaria is also slowly progressing towards offering its citizens and businesses a wide range of public e-services. The main difference, according to Prof. George Dimitrov, is that in Macedonia the process was fast-tracked thanks to political will and that the Macedonian government was open towards private products and e-identification schemes, such as the one offered by Mastercard. 

Trending Topics: What are the advantages and what are the challenges that come with implementing this project in North Macedonia?

Charles Walton: The big advantage is saving time, reducing paper, lower-cost ways of interacting. The challenges are bringing together participants – governance, technology providers, banks, mobile network operators – collaboration is never easy. I think the government support here is a great step to reduce that challenge, they have the will and the courage to proceed this way.

How does this project compare with successful and positive examples, such as the Estonian digital identity, for example?         

Charles Walton: In fact, I think it can reach that potential and more, in the sense that Mastercard is doing this locally, but as a part of a global initiative. It can even leapfrog what’s done in Estonia by the very fact that we are globally interoperable. I think that’s a great benefit in advancing the digital economy in North Macedonia. 

Do you believe that countries in the Western Balkans have the necessary capacities when talking about handling sensitive and personal information, as envisioned in the project?

Vanya Manova: Absolutely, we believe that the Western Balkans are the right region, and that’s why we are here. Even though North Macedonia is not the biggest country in the region, we, as one of the biggest international companies, are investing our time, money and technology here, because we see the potential. We also see the willingness of the Government and the Central Bank to implement and introduce all these changes in the legislation, which protect the customers the most. 

Does Mastercard have similar partnerships and do you plan similar initiatives elsewhere in the Balkans?

Vanya Manova: This is the first partnership between Mastercard and a government in terms of digital identity. I truly believe that this will be a great showcase for all the other countries across the Balkans, but not only. We will make this showcase available to the entire world, since it is very relevant everywhere.