On this week’s State of Identity podcast, host Cameron D’Ambrosi and Russ Cohn, General Manager, International at OCR Labs dive into the growing digital identity space. They discuss why digital identity is breaking out of pigeonholes around risk and compliance that have been held for so many years, and how OCR Labs is differentiating itself among a crowded field of competitors in the IDV and Doc space.
Cameron D'Ambrosi, Managing Director at Liminal
Russ Cohn, General Manager, International at OCR Labs
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:03] Welcome everyone to State of Identity. I’m your host, Cameron D’Ambrosi. Joining me this week is Russ Cohn, General Manager International at OCR Labs. We dive into a full scope of topics classic cars, Russ’s career journey to find himself in this growing digital identity space. What they’re building over at OCR Labs. Why digital identity is breaking out of some of these pigeonholes around risk and compliance that we found ourselves in for so many years. How OCR Labs is differentiating themselves among a crowded field of competitors in the ITV and Doc space. Why they feel automation is kind of their ace in the hole to drive that differentiation and really set that fundamentally strong user experience that platforms so require. So without further ado, Russ, welcome to State of Identity Bank Account.
Russ Cohn [00:00:57] What a pleasure to be here.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:59] We had a bit of an aside before we formally hit record talking about classic cars, which, you know, unfortunately for our listeners who tuned in for an identity podcast we will not be conducting, this is now turned into a Vintage Car podcast and please adjust your headsets accordingly.
Russ Cohn [00:01:21] We’re going to start with nothing else.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:01:25] Now I kid, I kid. So, you know, Russ, OCR Labs obviously doing some really, really exciting things in the digital identity space and would love to kind of dove into to what you’re building, how you’re differentiating yourself, and kind of where you see this really rapidly evolving market landscape headed. But before we do all that, I am obligated by the bylaws of the podcast to ask you a little bit about your background. First, you know, I do love to find out, you know, how folks found themselves in this digital identity space. What were those on ramps? How did you originally kind of get bitten by the digital identity bug? And what made you see the light in in terms of the tremendous opportunity in this space? So if you would, you know, walk us through a little bit about some of that career path and how you found yourself at OCR Labs.
Russ Cohn [00:02:17] Yeah. Happy to. My pop is is a little bit whiny in terms of getting to get into this place. I don’t come from the place, so I’m not I’m not a local, if you will. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and immigrated to London in the back end of last century. Makes me feel very old when these islands that we’re talking about. And so I’ve been here just over 20, 25 years, and I was lucky enough to join the Internet one photo revolution, if you will, of building the tracks and going to the search engine space very early. I started my career working for go to come to this idea that this was back in 2010, was the then for a little while and then we went public on the tour and I was lucky enough to move to Google in 2003, just before, about a year before I joined Google, about 600 people and I spent a decade building vertical markets for them. And so very much working in the advertising, the digital in the online space, trying to get everybody from traditional media and building new markets and new technologies. And that’s where I probably got to execute my passion for technology. My technology passion as a technophile started with my parents working on my first Walkman from Japan in 1976 and my first Nintendo game. And I think I love I love tech as a consumer, as a player. And then I saw the advantages and the value of technology when I was lucky enough to spend it. So that really got me excited. After Google, I spent a good number of start up businesses and scattered businesses in different regions across the world and eventually got into venture capital a couple of years back actually. So moved out of that space, thought that Google and Facebook was pretty much dominating tech attack and didn’t see a future for myself and wanted something different. So I went into venture capital and now a venture capital firm, Halcon Ventures, originally invested in seed stage and OCI labs. And so with my marketing background results, to do some work on labs and their marketing strategy and got to spend some time with the founders, dad and Math and the CEO. John And so John really had the vision. John Mars had the vision to invest in, and that’s about seven or eight years ago and saw the potential as technologists and what they were doing and were really he was really inspired, as I am now today, about the passion to support. And that’s why I built this technology. And I spent the last couple of years during COVID helping to grow the international business and working very closely with them to bring what people to to markets outside of it have been tremendously successful. So I’ve learned lot of it in the last couple of years. It’s a natural in the sector, but I certainly am passionate about its growth and its potential and I’m loving the fact and see strong similarities to to Google back in 2000 thousand five when we were shifting the landscape from traditional media to the new media using technology. And I feel the same way about technology shifting identity to a digital world.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:05:33] Awesome. Well, you know, a perfect Segway, if there ever was one, to a little bit more about the OCR Labs platform itself. So obviously you have optical character recognition right in the name. So I think most folks can glean that you’re maybe doing something in terms of taking an image and and processing it. But you know, walk us through the OCR Labs platform men and you know what you’re doing.
Russ Cohn [00:05:57] Yes, absolutely. And again, going back to the vision of Max and Dan, the founders of your labs, they really wanted to use technology to change the way that identity and identification of modern documents for people was done. So the industry’s been around a little while and has evolved, but the industry is built on solutions that leaned a lot on hybrid solutions. So having people and vessels to check the documents and the verification that happens. So what they tried to do and what we think we have is a fully automated, secure and seamless verification solution that can be done anywhere, any time by anyone from any background using any device. So that sounds like a lot. Sounds pretty ambitious, but we have got a solution to be able to scale and identify over 16,000 known identity documents across the world out of the box. So everybody who works with us has the ability to be able to use that technology to identify people from where they come. Really in the world, it covers 230 territories and countries in over 35 languages and scripts and some of the most difficult in the world, like hunting rabbits and symbolic, for example. So that document food assessment tool is really reasonable and is helping businesses with global presence and global customers to be able to onboard them onto the system pretty quickly and seamlessly using any official identity. Part of that solution is also to be able to make sure that the person that is joining or trying to with whatever the services they’re trying to access is really live and presence there. So with technology scaling and because we use things like machine learning the neural networks to be able to scale and understand these documents on a global level, what you get is forces are getting very better at what they’re doing as well. So they’re also using technology to be able to try and penetrate systems through things like face masks and, you know, constantly looking for ways to be seen as other people. We think that, again, the passive technology, that’s selfies, if you will, that have driven a lot of the sector’s growth are not necessarily the best thing these days because they are so easily replicated and fake that we will have high quality cameras and phones and it’s very easy to be able to bypass that. Our system uses a number of different technologies and synthetic data, for example, an understanding of the context of people and where they sit and what they do to make sure that we are really looking at the person presenting that document for identification, and they’re doing it at the time of the set out. By putting those two processes together, we give a really seamless and for a solution generally under 30 seconds depending on obviously access, etc., but certainly in the 60 seconds to the user. And we’re very focused on great use experience and making sure they can get on board and get access to those services quickly, but making sure we’re protecting our customers and that they don’t to be folded by some of the most sophisticated people in the world. We’re trying to.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:09:17] So, you know, I think it’s such an interesting time to be in the space because we are at in many ways is such a massive inflection point around, you know, not only how consumers are choosing to interact with these platforms, whether it’s the, you know, the shift to mobile or other, you know, channels. But beyond that, you know, coming out of COVID and the I guess the pigeonholing, if you will, of identity for quite a number of years into this regulatory space. Right. Like customers who are only seeking to kind of tick a regulatory checkbox. And I think with the rise of online to offline platforms like Uber and Airbnb and this need for platforms to establish trust and safety, and now with, you know, so many platforms taking different touchpoints in our lives and increasing demand for fighting fraud, you know, across different types of platforms, not just banks, you know, meeting anti-money-laundering requirements, identity is is coming to the fore for for product managers and other executives in spaces that I think, you know, we’re not thinking about digital identity in a meaningful way for their platforms. You know, what are you seeing in terms of the demand side of the evolution of the types of companies that are coming out to bring identity into their stack? And, you know, do we expect this trend to continue, hopefully as we finally claw ourselves out of this COVID malaise and maybe into a more open world?
Russ Cohn [00:10:56] Yeah, I mean, totally spot on. And again, it’s an exciting opportunity because there’s been a huge shift. I mean, and again, I think we’ve all seen that technology trend and seen the adoption of high grade mobile phones, obviously, after the iPhone came out and seen the kind of growth and how important that is to to users and customers. It’s evening and COVID has proliferated and accelerated that change. I think even more so, more people using mobile phones. There’s more power and more hardware in those devices. And the mobile has become an extension of ourselves and has been the gateway to multiple microservices, whether it be wanted to come to the cloud or whatever the case will be. So absolutely right now already are the high watermark companies like banks using and wanting better technology to do this because food is still very high. If you look at some of the numbers for some of the biggest banks in the world, any names but the fines for breaching these for data purposes or not doing what they should be doing is still a little bit in the hundreds of millions, sometimes billions. So that has to be solved. But what we’re seeing is exciting innovations around things like crypto, given the frothiness of the credit market, aside from the tech, really, I think, you know, I’m a believer the crypto. We have for a long time. And we see the need for people in those markets, for example, and things like E-Wallets. We see a proliferation of those coming out from telcos and others who want to share. And they need to understand customers and the need to deliver customers in a safe way and increase sales or not value sales, she said. But increase sales, as well as making sure that there’s no food going on, is increasing. So definitely extension in financial service markets like crypto and insurance, we’re seeing more interest coming in healthcare. Remote access for healthcare is increasing and so getting access to your digital records, you want to make sure that you can access them and not other people, for example. So that’s very interesting. You mentioned things like onboarding of drivers for some of the rideshare companies. On the flip side of that, are we seeing a huge increase in interest in things like mobility? So think about the amount of scooters on the streets of San Francisco and London right now. Neil, every time somebody hires one as as limousine, as Uber’s, any of these companies, I want to know that that’s a high value item. I want to go to the person in Texas again if something happens that I can get records on that. Same with renting a car rental car food is so so so the cases where people and of course access to those services remotely is increasing. So we’re seeing a need to be able to do this process quickly and remotely for customers if they want that service quickly. Like I want to speak out on a day for somebody in another country to check my documentation. I want to get on my biking. Well, that’s good in a minute or 2 minutes. Right. And but safely. And making sure that I understand a customer remote onboarding for employment is another one. We’re all taking jobs and we’re hiring. I’m hiring people across the country, across the world, maybe never meet, but I want to make sure I understand there’s people that I haven’t bought them correctly. So the need for those services is increasing. So, yes, are we’re excited about this opportunity and the fact that KYC is now driving a lot of this change. Businesses, I think, will acknowledge that technology can be used and they can do this remotely so they don’t have to have physical branches. And there’s a great need to cut operating costs while still being safe and making sure you get the right customers on your platform in the wrong customer. So.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:14:33] I mean, I think you’re hitting on really so many of the the fundamental issues that the industry as a whole is facing, which is, you know, where does that balance point lie? You know, I guess it’s overly simplistic in some ways, but. Right. Thinking about, you know, fraudsters on one end, your good customers on the other end of a seesaw, you know, where am I going to put that fulcrum that makes sure that, I guess to some degree, you want your fraudsters to be down and your your good customers to be up. So maybe we’re losing the plot a little bit in terms of padding the analogy up. But the point being, you know, there is there is a path to eliminating all fraud on your platform. And that path is bring zero customers on board. Right. If I have no customers at all, 100% of them are not fraudsters. But what do we we don’t have a company.
Russ Cohn [00:15:22] Yeah, but realistically, that’s never going to be realistic. We want to do that. We don’t have a company. So you’ve got to. We’ve got to accept. I was on a panel we fought for panel a couple of weeks ago, and the same question came out. And my response was, we’re always going to have fraud in society. It’s always going to happen in the courts. The key is accepting that it’s going to happen, which is trying to limit the amount of fraud that there is, while still allowing you to have a good customer experience. For the majority of people who don’t want to defraud you, they just want access to your business, your service, whatever you’re offering them for them to.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:15:58] So Russ, you know, it’s a fairly diverse and highly competitive landscape when it comes to solutions, looking to solve many of the challenges you’re solving, whether it’s authenticating the validity of someone’s physical identity document or matching their face against it, or, you know, extracting those resulting attributes and, you know, verifying them in some other way on the data side. It sounds like from your previous talk track that, you know, you really see your key differentiator as being that automation piece that you can get, you know, equivalent if not better results in terms of, you know, keeping fraudsters out and bringing good customers through the funnel without ever having to resort to a manual human reviewer. Would you say that that’s kind of a a fair summation of where you feel that OCR Labs is kind of ahead of the curve?
Russ Cohn [00:16:47] Yeah, I think I think automation is definitely one of the areas that we are seeing really positive feedback on when you speak to customers and prospects globally. The fact that they don’t have to wait for teams in other parts of the world and other countries that don’t have to wait hours sometimes to escalations to other teams and step up processes is a real relief to them. So I think it saves a lot of costs to those businesses because we don’t have to cross that cross because we’re using technology to do that. But I just want to add to those, too, and where we see, where we stand out, where we feel we’re with differentiate in the market is one automation, of course, great customer experience and really good for business. The second part is, I think, coverage to the fact that we can cover 16,000 plus identity documents globally means you don’t need multiple vendors in multiple countries. So we can really operate because we’re certified and we’re aligned against things like GDPR and the IDEA and CPA and TGIF in Australia and the trust framework in the UK. We can help you and support you using cloud and whether it’s local solutions, but generally cloud and we can cover most documents, no, no gender or racial bias. And so we can really help you in any country to get that global coverage. And the last piece I just want to finish up on the differentiation is a lot of technology solutions. Service providers in the market today have used other people’s technology to provide a service layer on top and give that tacit solution in market. And while that’s worked fairly well in the past, we own our own roadmap. So we build everything ourselves in-house and we can work with customers and partners and resellers to make sure that we can give the best for them depending on the market, the needs, the customers with their own solutions that are beyond travel. And so we think that’s a real distinct advantage to move quickly and support customers anywhere in the world.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:18:44] On that global front. You know, I think this is one of the most interesting elements of the identity space is, you know, varying adoption levels of the transition to digital credentials. And, you know, whether it’s IDC 2.0 in Europe, whether it’s models in the U.S., I think what’s missing in the conversation and excitement around the adoption of these digital credentials is. The transitory period, if you will, between full adoption of digital credentials and the elimination or, you know, secondary reliance on a physical document. You know, where do you see this market heading in in terms of how platforms need to think about, you know, bringing physical and digital documents through their funnel for a varying customer base that may be depending on market or depending on subsegment of their user base favors, one credential type or another, or maybe wants to use both.
Russ Cohn [00:19:52] I think there is a transition period that’s going to happen as digital accelerates, and I get the number of businesses out there that do both and have feet in both camps because they come from the physical document world, if you will. And now they’re adopting, you know, the, the, the, the, the digital technology that we use as default and we don’t feel we need to go back to do that. So we don’t offer any hybrid solutions, but we encourage our customers if they feel they need to pull back for some sort of escalation internally to to use that and to make sure that it helps them through that transition period. It’s the same thing with a lot of people won’t have identities in the UK, for example, the millions of people who don’t have identities. How do we help those people? The government needs to put in physical stores, for example, where they can walk into a job or something appropriate that the government runs, that they can go in and verify themselves even without an identity document to make sure they get access to benefits and other services. So there will be a period of change. And of course, parts of the world are running at different, different paces as well in terms of their legacy and and how the technology is being adopted or scaled. So, look, I think I think documents we’re seeing people trialing digital identities on phones, for example. For us, it’s just another URL path. So if you have your identity on a phone in a digital format and don’t have a physical format, we just redirected to use that credential to pass the process to be run as opposed to having a physical document. So we can do both and we can also do paper documents. So there are a number of countries like India and other countries with legacy documents that don’t expire, for example. So we see documents that are 40 years old and we can still, using technology, understand not only that that person is the same person, even though they’re older, they got less hair, they wearing glasses, they have a beard. But we can understand that that person is still the same person in the document that they’re presenting, using globally, in country and even in a country, even if it’s degraded. So technology helps us to do that, whereas humans will find that difficult and would say no to that version of the document. And our technology is now evolving to the point that we can extract OCR documentation like address validation of physical documents like utility bills. Some people still need that to validate the processes they go through and we can use that. And then a check against the digital database and check that address is still valid, for example. So we’re evolving, acknowledging physical and offline documents, but do see the future as digital and we think in time people will be completely digital. But we can support people with any of those needs in any country of the world because of the technology that was applied using machine learning. And the neural networks love it.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:22:40] So I love to ask folks to kind of take out their magic crystal ball and lay down a marker for what they expect to see in the future of the space. Obviously, I think we we touched on a little bit of that with this notion of, you know, this transition to digital credentials. Beyond that, we’d love to hear some of your thoughts more broadly about, you know, what you either expect and or hope to see out of the digital identity space. You know, whether that’s on the side of platforms like OCR or on the relying party side in terms of maybe how they’re interfacing with companies like yours.
Russ Cohn [00:23:13] Yeah, I mean, I think the first the first area that I really want to see change on and I’m hoping that we can get alignment on this is global standards around identity and around documents. So as you know, the reason that standards and globally governments operate independently, even the European Union is fragmented. And so kind of you look at that, there’s hundreds of countries in one territory. So if we can find some sort of interoperable standard that everybody can use, it’s going to make life a lot simpler for everyone, whether you’re a vendor or a government agency. We use it in part because I think in time what we’re asking users to do, if you think about an average day or week of a user who might want to join, you know, a loyalty program on a commerce platform and want to use a dating app and open a bank account, we’re asking them to do essentially the same process three, four times again and again. And I think. People are going to want to own some of that process themselves. So I do see data ownership and data independence coming in time, but there has to be a trust and an interoperability in the overall framework to allow users to own their own data. So I’d like to see that simplifying. I’d like to see owners take control of the data to some extent to be able to use it appropriately in a circumstance that they want to use it to make comfortable allowing for data, privacy and data and everything else that we know to be true. So that has to happen. And I think in time know we’re in a very hot sector right now. There’s a lot of lookalike companies coming purporting to do lots of things. Some people have a real advantage, but I think there will be consolidation as in any sectors that have high scores and have a lot of me to tech companies. So I’d like to see I’d like to see some consolidation that will continue to happen. We see these acquisitions and M&A. And I think what happened by nature of the way that was going on businesses, but there has to be some streamlining and there has to also be some accreditation and some acknowledgment that people can’t just say they operate and do something, but they actually do do it and have certifications and the legitimacy to operate because it’s very hard for customers we hear is that we made a lot of promises and they don’t deliver in the actuality of the service being provided. So we want to make sure that the standards that people talk about and the capability to have really matches the service that they deliver. So I’d like to see that getting a little bit more formalized at the company. So it seems we’re asking for more regulation, right? Like who does that? But I think we need it for everyone, for the consumer and for the industry. That’s going to give us a lot more support and growth.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:25:56] I couldn’t agree more. You know, I think when done correctly, I think regulation achieves a lot of goals for both the industry as well as consumers. You know, it it it levels the playing field and kind of lets everyone kind of understand where they stand and and what they need to do. And and I think, you know, these issues are so, so critical. Right. I mean, I know we say this a lot on the podcast and obviously, look, we’re digital identity consultants. So obviously we’re going to tell you that digital identity is important. But, you know, even if this weren’t my business, it’s hard. It’s impossible to deny that digital identity is set to fundamentally change. You know, how we move about our daily lives, how we are interacting not only with other individuals, but with governments and with, you know, businesses across every single industry vertical. And these issues are are not going away. They’re only getting more prescient. And, you know, as more things get pulled into the purely digital realm, you know, identity is that interface layer that cuts across everything. So, you know, if we don’t get it right, if we don’t take the time to really think about what we’re building, I think the ripple on effects are going to be tremendous and maybe not necessarily in a positive sense if we don’t put the right kind of frameworks and and structure in place to kind of shepherd everyone in that same direction. So super, super critical indeed.
Russ Cohn [00:27:28] And just the last thing is with Web3 and Metaverse, obviously, you know, on top of everyone’s timeline, well, maybe not really with us yet. I think identity is going to be critical given the fact that you don’t have to have your actual identity in what we perceive as that space right now. So for you to verify and get access to that, the new Internet, if you will, is going to be critical. So I think the standards have to be aligned before we really get that scale up on the Metaverse Web three.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:27:55] Last question. Like it’s not really much of a question, more of a statement, you know, for folks listening, they want to learn more about OCR Labs, your capabilities, you know, what markets you’re servicing, how to get integrated, you know, what is the best place for them to go and or who should they reach out to?
Russ Cohn [00:28:15] Of course. Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn is probably the best way. I think most people in this industry and maybe listening to this podcast on that said Reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to share the links with you if you have a can. Of course we have of course our website OCR Labs dot com pretty easy to get to so have a look there and then if you want to send an email. Hello. Absolutely. All the easiest way to get in an inquiry and we can reach whichever region you are in and support you and talk to you about that potentially forthcoming lot. So we welcome all of that and we look forward to hearing from people across the industry.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:28:49] Amazing. Well. Thank you so much for your time. Always great to connect with the folks, kind of really pushing the ball up the field in the space. So thank you so much again for your time and really looking forward to staying in touch.
Russ Cohn [00:29:05] Much appreciated. Look forward to seeing you soon after in person. Thanks, guys.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:29:10] Would love it. Beers are on.
Russ Cohn [00:29:11] Me. Likewise.
Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:29:14] And if you enjoy hearing me in your ear every week. Why, that may be the case. I couldn’t tell you. But please, like subscribe. Love for you to catch us.
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