Russia’s state supported e-card idea lowers its ambitions

The universal electronic card (UEC), an ambitious initiative signed into law in 2010 and christened by then President Medvedev of Russia as a “primary ID card” for all Russians, is no longer universal

The universal electronic card (UEC), an ambitious initiative signed into law in 2010 and christened by then President Medvedev of Russia as a “primary ID card” for all Russians, is no longer universal.

The sweeping introduction of the card, which had been slated for early next year, is “too burdensome” for regional coffers to afford, Nikolai Nikiforov, the Russian Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications, said earlier this week at a meeting in Tatarstan.

The populous Russian region of Tatarstan, once a UEC enthusiast, is now daunted by a disheartening 725 million ruble ($24 million) tab it has to pay for the across-the-board effort. For Tatarstan and 82 other regions of Russia, no federal financial support is envisioned to help the regions implement these cards.

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A tangible manifestation of Russia’s all-embracing e-government idea, the UEC was originally intended to replace virtually all existing ID documents, from student IDs and pension IDs to driving licenses and medical insurance cards. The UECs were also supposed to offer Russians a handy tool for paying taxes, requesting government services, paying transportation fares, and more. Now the ‘e-boon’ capabilities of the card have been made optional and will be available for willing individuals only after submitting a special request.

Sberbank, Russia’s largest savings bank, was the driving force behind the wide-ranging UEC move more than three years ago. Just last month, Sberbank formally presented its own e-card, and the bank-issued card is already being offered to Sberbank customers in regions from St. Petersburg to Novosibirsk and Buryatia in Siberia to Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. And it is Sberbank’s anticipated competitive advantages with the project running at full throttle that other Russian banks may have sought to avert. Some experts reckon Sberbank’s competitors may have lobbied against the universality of the UEC in hopes of preventing Sberbank from gaining a significant competitive edge.

Others note that, universal or not, the UEC project will be short-lived because special plastic cards are expected to start replacing paper IDs effective January 1, 2015, and these new cards will incorporate many of the functions of the UEC.

First published in East-West Digital News.

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