Bank Identity: Banks, ID Cards, and the Emergence of a Financial Identification Society in Sweden
Today almost every adult in Sweden has a digital BankID, issued by banks for the purpose of ensuring safe payments. However, a BankID is also a pre¬requisite for contacts with for example municipal schools, and the public healthcare system. When we act as parents or patients, why do we use identification granted to us in our capacity as bank consumers? How is it possible that the official proof of personal identity in basic civic issues is provided by commercial banks?
Digital identification is a recent development, but the formalization of what could be called bank identity and the general use of official ID cards validated and by banks have their roots back in the early 1960s. Long before our era of ‘surveillance capitalism’ (Zuboff 2019) banks gained a dominating role in the management of identification in Sweden, controlling all legitimate means of identification in society but the passport. The article unpacks the early emergence of a financial identification society including institutional frames and changing everyday practices of identification. It argues that the post war Swedish system of everyday official identification developed from the need to identify the new mass consumer of financial services and is connected to the especially early “bancarisation” (Feiertag 2011) – spread of banking services– in Swedish society.
Starting from the late 1950s salaries and wages were increasingly payed by direct transfer to checking account and within a decade the large majority of the Swedish workforce became holders of checking accounts, formerly a symbol of high social status. The banks propagated the use of checks for everyday purchases and also started to offer a range other financial services to their new customers. This happened quickly and early in a European comparison.
A need for functional and secure identification documents arose and the banks, after negotiation with retailers, the police and post offices, found themselves forced to issue and validate ID-cards. Furthermore, the new identificatory practices had to be naturalized. This was not an easy task as people initially perceived the requests for a proof of identity as highly offensive and degrading. The shame of identification faded eventually, partly as result for information campaigns connecting money and banks to identity and ID-cards.
The focus on the interconnections between identity documents (the ID-card) and financial identities in a socio-cultural sense (wage-earner, bank customer, checking account holder) reveals an interesting historical trajectory. The Swedish story contrasts the scholarship on the history of identification (Caplan &Torpey 2001; About et al 2013; Robertson 2010), which, before the digital age, connects identity documents to the state’s administrative control and to the cementation of national identities. It is also different from the American histories of the birth of “the modern financial identity” (Lauer 2018) by means of credit bureaus and credit scoring technologies.
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