Cantons draw on eID to attract foreign firms

Shops in Stein am Rhein, Schaffhausen, sport medieval signs to advertise wares. Behind the scenes, they will be able to pay taxes using digital IDs. Keystone

Two Swiss cantons, which both pride themselves on being magnets for international companies, have introduced digital ID to enhance services. Schaffhausen and Zug hope the cutting-edge technology will help attract more firms.

This content was published on August 2, 2017 - 17:00

The eID schemes will allow residents to pay taxes, register businesses, apply for permits and take advantage of a host of other council services without having to leave their desks or wade through reams of paperwork.

“We want to build awareness of Schaffhausen as a testing lab of innovation,” Pascal Schmidlin, spokesman for Canton Schaffhausen, told “We want to attract both domestic and foreign businesses to our location. It will make it easier to set up a business and for the employees of these firms to reach local government services.” 

Cryptocurrency capital

Schaffhausen, which lies north of Zurich and borders Germany, has attracted more than 500 foreign firms, including food manufacturing giant Unilever, in the last 20 years. Zug is building a name for itself as ‘Crypto Valley’, a leading global centre for cryptocurrency and financial technology (fintech) companies.

The eID services will not be restricted to foreign firms – every citizen will enjoy the benefits. But the Greater Zurich Area (GZA) agency, which coordinates business promotion for Zurich, Zug, Schaffhausen and other cantons, says it sends out a positive signal globally.

“They may not be a direct site selection factor for a foreign investor, but they are an expression of a favourable and innovative business environment,” GZA spokesman Reto Sidler told

“Foreign companies realise that these regions do not only talk about leading change with digitalization, but that their governments actually foster a favorable ecosystem with such measures.”

E-IDs are increasingly viewed as a key cornerstone the new digitalization movement. They could allow people to use government services, manage their finances, shop and vote without having to log-on to different platforms and remember multiple passwords. 

The Swiss national digital identification scheme, SwissID, was relaunched earlier this year and some cantons are trialling evoting systems. But Schaffhausen and Zug have stolen a march on larger cantonal rivals by implementing their own eID programmes.

Zug has gone one step further by decentralising its eID system on the blockchain. This means people will not have to store their identification data with the local authority, but can take charge of it in their own digital space. This is particularly important in an era of frustration at large corporations using personal data for their own economic gain.

Zug will also be staging a consultative vote next year to determine whether to use digital IDs for cantonal voting.

On Friday, we'll take a closer look at the idea of digital identities, and talk to the driving force behind the initiative.

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