Voice of the Industry

Trans and gender: An issue of non-conforming identities in today's digital world

Wednesday 1 April 2020 08:21 CET | Editor: Simona Negru | Voice of the industry

Does the word 'identity' include under its umbrella notions of financial and social inclusion for everyone, or are there exceptions?, Simona Negru, content editor at The Paypers tries to find the answer 

Why being different is an issue?

Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: ‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law’. Considering today’s digital world, the word ‘identity’ is meant to be a key driver for financial and social inclusion, as well as a means of allowing people to exercise their rights or to prove who they are. However, sometimes identity systems can be sources of exclusion. If we take into account the transgender people who might present themselves differently than the name and gender on their IDs, we can see that this situation might lead to abuse and discrimination.

In fact, 32% of individuals whose name and gender represented on their IDs don’t match with how they present themselves reported negative experiences including harassment, denied services, and/or physical attacks. Changing government identification and applying for banking services (e.g. opening accounts, issuing payment cards) are also some of the biggest struggles transgender people face nowadays.

The US

Around 1.4 million adults in the US consider themselves transgender, meaning they identify as a gender that differs from the one on their birth certificate. Moreover, a survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted in 2015 found that only 11% of transgender Americans reported that all of their IDs had the preferred name and gender, while 68% suggested that none of their IDs showed this information. In addition, if a trans person wants to open a bank account, start a new job, enrol in school or travel, they need accurate and consistent IDs. The issue is that because of the federal government’s strict requirements – court orders, proof of surgery etc. – only the persons who have already transitioned have been able to update all of their ID records. 


The Council of Europe requires that all its member states provide for legal recognition. However, 20 countries demand trans people to undergo sterilisation before their gender identity is recognised, and only 5 European countries spare transgenders from experiencing sterilisation, medical interventions, divorce, or a psychological diagnosis or assessment. These requirements and the lack of clear legislation result in the fact that most trans people abide by documents that do not match their gender identity.


In India, the Aadhaar ID is ‘de facto mandatory for bank accounts, SIM cards, tax filings, and school enrolment’, with more than 1.2 billion IDs being issued, as per government data. However, large numbers of marginalised and trans people are denied or excluded from services. More precisely, an estimated 102 million people – 30% of the country’s homeless population and over a quarter of its trans people – do not have Aadhaar but are more likely exposed to errors in their ID information, which could lead to denials of welfare services. When requested to comment on the matter, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) denied any response. 

Embarking on a quest to change the world

For the transgender communities, payment cards can be a source of sensitivity, as their chosen names don’t always appear on the front of them. These issues have not been overlooked by companies and banks that don’t want to misrepresent these people’s identities on the issued documents. As such, Mastercard is one of the companies that addressed these challenges by introducing its True Name card initiative in June 2019, which enables chosen names to appear on credit, debit or prepaid cards, with no requirement to change the legal birth name before applying for a card.

When proposing its ideas, Mastercard’s goal was also to prompt more banks and issuers to start rolling out this feature in a bid to bring non-discriminatory banking and credit services to the trans community. And it seems that it succeeded: two financial institutions, more precisely BMO Harris and Superbia credit Union, announced their intention to launch this capability across their card offerings. Superbia plans to roll out the True Name feature across its Mastercard products somewhere in spring 2020, while US-based bank BMO Harris already launched this feature on personal debit cards in December 2019, considering that ‘Breaking down barriers to inclusion requires bold action’. Therefore, before printing their debit card, BMO customers are given the option to choose between their legal and preferred name to be added on the BMO Harris Bank Debit Mastercard.

Aiming to facilitate the customers’ banking experience, HSBC also offers its transgender community a choice of 10 new gender-neutral titles such as Mx, Ind, M, Mre, and Misc. This service reflects the ‘financial needs of the trans community’, and it was applied across customers’ accounts including their bank cards. Similarly, UK-based Metro Bank added the title ‘Mx’ alongside Mr, Mrs, Miss, and Ms, after a Scottish teenager was not able to open an account because her only option was to tick either the male or female box.

Let’s see how bright the future is

While some may consider that these new products reflect a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and acceptance, when people want to use differing forms of conflicting personal identification, we should also speak about the elephant in the room: several unaddressed questions drag along a whole other range of problems.

For example, LexisNexis Risk Solutions said that what Mastercard’s initiative does is to acknowledge that banks still have work to do in verifying customers whose names or identifying attributes may have changed over time. However, the issue with this is that changing the tech that supports banks’ capabilities to check identities across a range of use cases will likely take time because of complex, legal and regulatory requirements.

If, on the other hand, a trans person decides to legally change their name, there are significant costs involved, not even mentioning the bureaucracy – from court orders to change legal names, to state and federal agencies that must verify that no one is trying to defraud the state. The National Center for Transgender Equality found in their survey that almost one-third of trans people can't afford to change their name because of the cost, which can range from less than USD 100 to USD 2,000. Also, fees required by the process of obtaining a legal name change may include the cost of legal help, court fees, and newspaper publication. As a result, 35% transgender people have not changed their legal name, and 32% have not updated the gender on their IDs. Another issue found in the survey is that 25% experienced health insurance issues, including denial for healthcare-coverage for gender transition or simply routine care. 

What is sure is that organisations such as NCTE (National Center for Transgender Equality) or TGEU (Transgender Europe) work to remove all sorts of barriers (e.g. surgery, court order requirements) to make sure that trans people have access to accurate IDs. NCTE, for instance, provides technical support for states, in a bid to update their name change, diver’s license, and birth certificate policies. TGEU runs campaigns providing research, legal analysis, and advocacy materials, to raises awareness regarding transparent legal gender recognition procedures. The question that comes to mind is: what’s next to come? Will these attempts be successful and indeed change the most reluctant minds? Will we see alternative names on driver's licenses or will trans people soon be enabled to choose any desired name when opening a bank account or applying for a loan anywhere in the world? We should see what the future holds.  

The article was first published in the Digital Onboarding and KYC Report 2020, which offers insightful editorials on topics such as digital onboarding best practices and key challenges, financial crime and how to fight it, crypto, and more.

About Simona Negru

A graduate of English Language and Literature studies, with an MA in American Studies, Simona is always on the lookout for the best and new stories to capture. A passionate content editor, Simona is keen on discovering and sharing all the relevant news and topics on both distributed ledgers and cryptocurrencies, as well as online security and digital identity, all while finding the hottest trends in the industry for The Paypers’ readers.

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Keywords: Simona Negru, The Paypers, transgender, identity, iD, financial inclusion, social inclusion, accounts, payments , cards, banking services, law, regulations, authentication, verification, gender identity, personal information, banks, issuers, financial institutions, debit cards, credit cards, legal requirements
Categories: Fraud & Financial Crime
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Fraud & Financial Crime