Your Digital Wallet Might Soon Work Just Like a Universal Remote

Going beyond payment

  • The OpenWallet Foundation (OWF) has brought together industry players across technology, identity, payment, and authentication to create universal digital wallets.
  • Instead of a new wallet, OWF will facilitate the creation of software tools to help anyone build their own digital wallets.
  • Wallets created using OWF’s software tools will work across different services such as payments, identity, and more.
women sending money through digital wallet

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We've all experienced and enjoyed the convenience of using digital wallets at some point, but using separate ones for different tasks can be quite irksome, which is exactly the problem the OpenWallet Foundation (OWF) wants to sort out.

Formed under the aegis of the Linux Foundation, OWF has rallied together several technology and industry players (including Okta, Ping Identity, Accenture, CVS Health, and others) to support interoperability across digital wallets. Essentially an application that runs on smartphones, digital wallets are most popular for carrying payment information and can also carry digital versions of your driver's license, library card, boarding passes, and more. The OWF intends to help facilitate the creation of universal digital wallets that people can use seamlessly for all kinds of services.

"There has been greater merging of FinTech and InsurTech, such that many large companies may offer a range of insurance, finance, and consumer services, and those customer experiences are being driven to the mobile app," Jim St. Clair, Executive Director at the Linux Foundation Public Health, currently coordinating the formation of OWF membership, told Lifewire over email. "A secure, interoperable wallet could provide seamless use of financial instruments, personal identity, and other data in a multi-regulatory environment."

Playing Together

Digital wallets, such as Google Pay and Apple Pay, are rapidly replacing credit cards for purchases. Several service providers, like airlines and gyms, also have their own digital wallets for their membership and loyalty programs. 

As our lives become more and more digital, it is critical to have strong and interoperable digital wallets.

Although a lot more convenient than carrying plastic cards in physical wallets, the fact that a digital wallet is essentially a one-trick pony means you need one wallet for one job, another for some other task, and so on. For instance, St. Claire points to Citi, which offers shopping, financial, and mortgage services, all of which require separate digital wallets.

Instead, OWF will put out software tools and guidelines that anyone can utilize to build digital wallets that work across multiple services.

"Verifiable credentials are becoming an essential digital empowerment tool for billions of people and small entities," Dr. Pramod Varma, Chief Architect at Aadhaar, said in OWF's press release, praising OWF for its intentions to create the necessary infrastructure to enhance the digital wallet experience for everyone.

Ubiquitous Wallet

OWF was announced at the just concluded 2022 Open Source Summit Europe in Dublin. Daniel Goldscheider, CEO of open banking startup, and OpenWallet's founder, explained in his keynote that OWF visualizes the new all-in-one digital wallet as analogous to the various web browsers, built on top of different browser engines. 

To the people, the universal wallet would appear, and function in the same way different web browsers provide the same web browsing experience. "So no matter what e-wallet you use, you can use it at any digital wallet point-of-sale or contact," Goldscheider said in his keynote.

person paying with a smartphone at the movie theater's bar counter

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In our exchange, St. Clair uses the example of email. "While email is presented in different user experiences, like Gmail vs. Outlook, the SMTP standards and code is open and interoperable to allow any email service to recognize and send emails," explained St. Clair.

Extending the example, St. Clair said another objective of the project is to help create a mobile-first user experience, as opposed to the current arrangement where the user interface largely represents the desktop experience. 

"Establishing an open source core engine will help ensure security and portability in a seamless mobile or desktop customer experience," said St. Clair.

Although they're just getting started, the OWF plans its open source software stack to facilitate the creation of digital wallets that support myriad use cases across identity, payments, digital keys, and more. 

"As our lives become more and more digital, it is critical to have strong and interoperable digital wallets that can properly safeguard our digital properties, whether it is our identities, data, or money," said Kaliya Young, founder of Identity Woman, in OWF's press release.

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