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What Is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) enables companies to manage digital identities, authenticate customers and authorize their access to specific resources across digital and non-digital channels. The building blocks of CIAM vary, depending on who you ask and what you read. Analysts seem to be expanding their definitions of CIAM by the minute. 

What are the key features of CIAM?

  • Multi-channel authentication is a critical security check that verifies a customer’s identity before granting access to an account, app, portal or service. This login process ensures customers are truly who they say they are. Passwords are the most common form of authentication, but experts now recommend more innovative passwordless authentication methods to fortify security and smooth the customer journey across all channels. 
  • Authorization, also known as client privilege, gives customers permission to access specific resources or capabilities. This is a vital feature of IAM solutions designed to control and limit employee access to confidential data. For customers it can be used for managing access to service levels within an app or portal.
  • Identity administration helps companies manage login credentials, user profiles and customer analytics based on biographical data, preferences and behavior. CIAM aggregates this data and provides reports for companies to personalize the user’s experience across multiple channels.  

In addition to the core functionality above, CIAM typically includes: customer self-service registration, consent and privacy management, password management, secured APIs, SDKs for mobile apps, plus single-sign-on (SSO) and social logins (BYOI). Some experts say CIAM should also provide adaptive access and fraud detection for the most comprehensive solution. 

It’s an extensive set of tools, and analysts admit few, if any, out-of-the-box CIAM solutions deliver it all. With such a wide spectrum of CIAM capabilities, companies are encouraged to consider their top priorities and use cases prior to choosing solutions. So let’s explore what CIAM can achieve.

Why is CIAM important, and what does it do?

CIAM is an attempt to solve complex security and identity management challenges, while satisfying conflicting objectives. To understand the clash of entangled issues, envision CIAM as a neoteric traffic light proxy at the center of an intersection that looks like this: 

  1. You have multiple lanes of security, which typically enjoy the longest green lights. 
  2. Entering from a quieter side street, customer data and identity analytics help companies create more personalized experiences.
  3. Across the intersection, you have the customer’s desire for data privacy and security alongside privacy compliance mandates like GDPR in the EU. 
  4. Directly opposite heavy security traffic, you have customers in a turn lane, waiting for a green arrow to log in. Too often they’re frustrated and just want to get to their destination. 

If done well, CIAM will smooth the journey on all fronts, optimizing security, personalization, privacy and customer experience. Companies should prioritize their goals to strike a balance that will achieve their needs. Some organizations are deploying CIAM in a phased approach, rolling out technologies that meet their most immediate goals first.

Alternatives to full CIAM adoption

Comprehensive CIAM implementations are highly complex, much like the problems CIAM attempts to address. As an alternative, companies are deploying the most vital elements of CIAM, like passwordless authentication. 

FIDO2 biometric authentication can deliver three core CIAM objectives: 1) stronger security, 2) better customer experience (CX) and 3) complete data privacy. This third goal is worth exploring. FIDO2-certified authenticators cannot track customers across services, and encrypted biometrics (fingerprints and facial scans) never leave the end user’s device.

Using a biometric authentication service is more appealing to some companies that would prefer to avoid the liability of storing passwords or using and sharing personally identifiable information (PII) that hackers can target. Many companies choosing this route have other safe mechanisms in place for collecting customer analytics to improve CX.

CIAM use cases: partial deployments

Ease of integration (with open source APIs) and greater simplicity make biometric authentication the solution of choice for financial institutions that need to improve security quickly. Upfront costs and speed to market are also important for startups that have a short runway to ship and sell product quickly. Likewise, larger organizations with quarterly goals will weigh the time and complexity of CIAM, aiming to make significant improvements in months, not years. 

Competitive advantages of CIAM    

CIAM can dramatically impact the customer experience since registering and verifying a user identity happens at the beginning of the customer journey. It’s one of their first impressions of your brand. And customers want it all: simplicity, speed, security and data privacy—without hurdles and headaches. When we address these demands, business costs will drop and revenues will rise. Gain every advantage: 

  • Elevate customer experiences
    Customers want fast and easy access to their accounts, apps and services. Fantastic identity experiences can build customer loyalty and drive sales. A poor login experience with too much friction can have the opposite effect, driving customers away. According to HubSpot, companies that deliver better customer experiences outperform their competitors by 80%. 
  • Deliver ironclad security
    To strengthen security, CIAM must include passwordless authentication that’s designed to validate user identities with maximum certainty. FIDO2 biometric authentication achieves this by verifying users based on their fingerprints or facial scans. Not only do customers prefer it, but it’s significantly stronger than passwords and basic multi-factor authentication (MFA). 

    Many CIAM solutions also include password management and standard MFA. This, however, can be problematic since passwords are targeted in 80% of attacks, according to Verizon. Plus consumers reuse passwords for dozens of accounts, so credentials stolen from another site could be used to enter your digital properties. We predict future CIAM solutions (and companies) will abandon the use of passwords and password management entirely.
  • Boost revenue
    By eliminating problematic passwords and replacing them with smooth and easy identity experiences, customers are more inclined to visit longer, return frequently and spend more. This is directly tied to removing friction from the customer experience. Companies that authenticate customers without the hassles of passwords, security questions, one-time passcodes (OTPs), failed logins and resets, will increase sales. Businesses can also reclaim 33% in sales previously lost due to forgotten passwords.
  • Protect data privacy
    Companies that respect and protect customer privacy will earn customer trust. Preventing data misuse, data theft and account takeovers are essential for compliance with security and data privacy laws. If your company plans to use customer data and share it with partners to improve personalization, be sure to follow strict privacy regulations and sound security practices.
  • Lower costs
    By avoiding account takeovers and embarrassing data loss, companies can save millions of dollars. It’s difficult to quantify the cost of a security breach since hacked businesses also face lawsuits and lose customers well into the future. In addition, CIAM solutions that reduce or eliminate the use of passwords reduce customer service costs, since 40% of helpdesk calls are password resets.

CIAM vs. IAM? 

CIAM vs. IAM explained

Identity and access management (IAM) has been around for more than a decade and is designed specifically for the workforce. The goals of CIAM and IAM solutions seem similar, but IAM solutions simply don’t scale for customers. Workforce authentication typically involves PIN cards, security keys or tokens. There’s a high cost of provisioning, and employees are required to keep track of these tokens. This takes effort, and there’s an elevated risk if tokens are lost or stolen. 

CIAM, specifically customer authentication, is now possible thanks to a number of advances in technology. For starters, we have smartphones that we carry everywhere, and the majority of them are equipped with biometric scanners. Windows Hello & Apple Touch ID are being built into most mobiles, laptops & desktops today. By 2024, it’s estimated that 1.3 billion devices will have biometric capabilities.

Customers prefer using fingerprint or facial recognition because it’s so easy. They no longer have to remember complex passwords for dozens of accounts. By getting rid of passwords, both companies and consumers are freed from having to manage and protect those credentials. It’s a true win-win. 

CIAM delivers it all

CIAM solutions, even partial deployments, put an end to the age-old dilemma of security versus customer experience. We can now optimize both: effortless experiences and secure authentication. If done well, CIAM provides strong and seamless identity experiences needed to gain new customers, build trust and keep them coming back for more.
Start your company’s transition to CIAM with BindID, the industry’s first app-less authentication service.  BindID can resolve your most costly problems. Read our blog: The 8 Biggest Issues in CIAM Today