A provincial government in western Germany lost up to USD $116 million in fraudulent claims of Covid-19 relief payments. Registrants were not asked to verify their identities, creating an easy opportunity for scammers to take advantage of.

Social benefit programmes are especially important during a pandemic. But ensuring that the funds reach the right people quickly is as, if not more, essential.

GovInsider spoke to Juan Evangelista, Chief Information Officer of the Philippines’ Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), to find out how his team is using tech to prevent fraud and continue delivering services in times of crisis.

Fraud no more

GSIS provides government employees with life insurance, pensions, and other benefits, in exchange for their monthly contributions.

In the past, GSIS used cheques to distribute loans and members needed to produce just an identity card to receive the payouts. But this made fraud more likely as criminals could use stolen ID cards to receive payouts, says Evangelista.

To combat fraud and move away from cheques, GSIS implemented biometric-enabled eCards to access their records and receive loan payouts. The eCard requires fingerprint verification – once when logging into the system, and another when availing the loan, he adds. “With the onset of biometrics, we have found that they cannot get away from it, even if some people say, ‘no I did not take that loan,’” he says.

All proceeds are now credited directly to the member’s account. Implementing E cards and kiosks has provided GSIS with “an almost fraud proof system,” he claims.

Continuity of services

GSIS has also pivoted to allow members to continue receiving funds during times of crisis. Pensioners typically have to appear at a GSIS office or reactivate their status through a kiosk to continue receiving payouts. That mandatory ‘proof of life’ process was implemented after the agency lost USD $33 million in payouts that were still distributed to 48,843 pensioners even after their death.

But movement controls and the risk of transmission during Covid-19 hindered that process.
To allow pensioners to continue receiving benefits, the agency allowed for online submissions instead, says Evangelista. Local pensioners can submit their documents via email, while pensioners overseas can reactivate their status using Skype.

The agency also wanted to ensure members can receive financial support during the crisis. It allowed members to apply for loans online, or visit any of the 800 kiosks near their homes, says Evangelista.

“They apply in the morning, their HR approves it, and in the afternoon, it would be in their bank account, and they can withdraw it using their eCard,” he adds. “That’s the fastest loan system available.”

The kiosks and eCards were especially useful when Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in 2013, says Evangelista. There were thousands who needed emergency loans, and the kiosks allowed funds to be distributed in an efficient and accurate way.

However, some processes like retirement claims still require certain documentations and applications in person, he says. “So, the policies must be changed first.” The pandemic has created awareness among the top management to change policies, Evangelista adds.

Innovations beyond the pandemic

Moving forward, GSIS is looking to introduce digital signatures. “We still have a lot of processes internally that are really related to putting things in Word or Excel printing it out, manually signing these documents, and then circulating it within the agency,” he says. “Because of the pandemic, it has come to the forefront.”

The agency is also hoping to launch mobile applications later this year, says Evangelista. This would replace the kiosks, and allow GSIS members to use its services on-the-go.

“We want to be able to draw our members more into electronic channels,” he adds. But it has been a challenging process as the majority of GSIS’ members are aged 60 and above, some of which are not as tech-savvy or willing to try out digital services.

“We cannot refuse a service to a member just because he does not want to use electronic means,” says Evangelista. As the agency builds more digital services, he hopes that “those who are not too used to the technology can be drawn to use electronic channels.”

In times of crisis, the continuity of welfare distributions is key. Going digital plays a huge role in ensuring funds reach the right person in the shortest time possible.