Nigeria: Aguele - Technology Will Address Security, Trust Issues About Data Verification

26 September 2019

The Chief Executive Officer, VerifyMe Nigeria, Mr. Esigie Aguele, in this interview with Emma Okonji, speaks on the security and trust issues around data verification for all employers of labour. Excerpts:

VerifyMe did a lot of restructuring on its verification platform in recent times. Could you share some of the restructured features on your new verification platform?

Based on market reality and demand, we took a step back with our product to redesign the product in order to come up with a product that will address customers' needs. The difference between what we had before and what we have now is that our new product is actually a total verification platform, because we have been able to bring together the major verification repositories in Nigeria, like National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), including Bank Verification Number (BVN), which we have linked to 'Know Your Customer' (KYC) data in order to address verification data, guarantor verification data, work history verification data among others.

Now, a lot of times, people can go and check individuals out on these different verification platforms but if you are not linking it to a specific identity (ID), then it will be difficult to get the true identity of the person whose information is being checked. So what we did was to close the loopholes and the weakest link and ensured that a verification platform starts with ID verification, and it is linked with other KYC data, so that when we are giving that data to our customer, we know that it is trusted and secured.

What really changed between the old verification platform and the redesigned verification platform?

Before the process of redesigning our platform, it was not a verification platform, but more of an employment platform because it was more manual, but after the redesigning, it became a truly verification platform because it is now automated. Not all the data someone gets is real time but our ID verification is now real time, and what we have done is to make it easy for customers to request the additional data and receive it on the same dashboard, to enable them make a decision on whether to hire or whether to offer a service to someone on request. Our website now have new features that make verification easier and real time.

The truth is that Nigerian population is about 200 million and everyday businesses are transacted online but the biggest question is, how do we know all these people so that we can offer them the right service, irrespective of the kind of service. So VerifyMe is here to solve that problem for customers. We have partnered some financial institutions in the country that use our product.

So how does the feature on the redesigned VerifyMe platform works?

From our website, we have made the first page quite easy for customers. So when an employer logs in, he can easily see the type of verification he wants, which could be full time employee, skilled labour, among others. We also built a system that helps the consumer selects his options for the type of KYC that he wants. The second page on our website, basically shows a summary of what people do, but the most important page for us is our request page that displays all forms of verifications.

What VerifyMe does is that within few hours, it will actually give you all the data points of the person including pictures, street address, image of the house, among others. So our solution has allowed us to basically reduce the cost of address verifications by up to three fold in Nigeria, just because of the technology we deployed. Average cost of verification used to be about N10,000, but since we came on board with our technology, we have been able to drop the cost to between N2,500 and N2,000, which is very good for the market. Even our high volume customers that do up to 1,000 verifications per month, our solution has equally reduced the cost for them. Address verification can be done in less than three minutes and ID verification can be done on our platform in less than four minutes.

How will interested organisations access your verification service?

Organisations can access our service real time with their bank cards. Its

a full e-commerce verification platform. Customers are allowed to log into our website with their bank cards and money is not deducted from the card until the customer makes a request. Like I said earlier, our services come very cheap and we are the cheapest in the market because our technology is the best and innovative. It allows us to offer quality solutions at affordable prices. For organisations with 10 employees, what they need do is to log into the system, and we've made it easy for businesses. For organisations that have up to 800 staff and above, what they need do is to type all their names in excel format and upload it on our system. So let us say an organisation uploads the names of 800 staff, within two minutes all the ID verifications for all the 800 staff will be done and then the address and guarantor verification results will be ready in less than 48 hours, no matter their locations. We currently have about 1,300 agents across the country today, which are scaled significantly from where we were before.

How do you work with the 1,300 agents across the country to ensure they maintain customer trust and confidence?

We have provided an app for all our agents and because they are our partners, they register with us and transact on our platform on our behalf. So they are called our agent partners, and they do verification for us. Once we get an order for verification, we assign the work to the nearest agent to that location and we use technology to monitor the agent. So we use Global Positioning System (GPS) to monitor their phone, we use GPS to monitor their location, and when the agent goes to an address, we actually check the GPS on his phone to the GPS number to the latitude on the location and compare them to make sure that he is on site. The agent is required to take three pictures: a picture of the streets, get a reference from a neighbour or a picture of the house as well. All these are requirements that must be met according to the directive from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). So the way we collect our data at VerifyMe is aligned with CBN's tier 111 and international anti-money laundering laws.

What value is VerifyMe adding to its over 1,300 agents across the country?

By partnering over 1,300 agents, we are providing almost instant income for over 1,300 Nigerians across the country, who otherwise wouldn't have jobs. Nigerians that have personal integrity, can choose to become our verification agent. We have verification agents in this business that actually do about N10,000 to N15,000 a day. With just a smartphone, people can essentially get into the verification ecosystem in Nigeria, and immediately begin making money and start making an income for himself and his or her family. So, we have agents today who actually make just as much as an Uber driver would make by doing verifications.

An average agent can do up 200 to 300 verifications in a month and that amounts to lots of money as commission for the agent.

How do you address issues of failed network with your agents, especially in rural communities?

There are issues with failed network no doubt, but we have a verification service department that actually manages the agents, but to deal with the challenge, our app actually works without operators' network because we use GPS, which can still capture the longitude and latitude, because GPS do not use cellular networks, but satellite. So with satellite connectivity, and using GPS, agents can still do things like address verifications, among others.

Since you link verification to BVN and NIMC data, what kind of partnership do you have with banks and NIMC who are the repository of public data?

So we don't have a relationship with CBN, but what happens is that NIMC has been mandated to house and harmonise all data in Nigeria that were hitherto sitting in silos, and so we are licensed by NIMC. Since we got our NIMC validation and licence, we were approved for NIMC's Application Programming Interface (API), which gives us direct access to NIMC for any verification, and that allowed us to actually approach other agencies such as FRSC. So we also have an agreement on the table with FRSC, and we also have an agreement with Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS).

NIMC has been mandated to harmonise all existing data sitting in silos at different government agencies and parastatals, but the process is ongoing and not yet completed. How is this affecting the process of verification on the VerifyMe platform?

It is true that NIMC is still in the process of harmonising data, but the

lowest common denominator between all these repositories is biometrics. So for us at VerifyMe, we have the multi-factor option and it is very important for us to understand that the problem we're trying to solve is the problem of work history reporting an identity verification. So as long as we are able to link work history and KYC to one major ID like BVN, FRSC data or we link it to your name, that's actually gives some satisfactory service because on our backend, we are actually working to harmonize the data we get from verification. So this is so much powerful technology that is upcoming that is actually going to help us take care of the harmonisation problem. We're not so worried about it, and we know that we have between 50 million and 60 million people to attend to while the harmonisation is in progress.

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