The Power of Identity

Episode 294

State of Identity Podcast


Episode 294

The Power of Identity

How are organizations building technology that can help prevent fraud and automate KYC and compliance?  State of Identity host, Cameron D’Ambrosi and Gbenga Odegbami, CEO and CoFounder of Youverify take on the hot topic of closing the gaps between businesses and consumer identities. 


Cameron D'Ambrosi, Senior Principal at Liminal


Gbenga Odegbami, CEO and CoFounder of Youverify


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Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:04] Welcome to State of Identity. I’m your host, Cameron Ambrosi. Joining me this week is Gbenga, Odegbami CEO and co-founder of Youverify Gbenga. Welcome to the podcast.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:00:15] Yeah, thanks for having me. Yeah. Yeah, it’s been fantastic. We’ve been waiting for this opportunity.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:21] While we have been waiting to have you on. I think you’re sitting at the intersectionality of a lot of really interesting trends in the space, you know, identity management, KYC, risk and compliance fraud. And then, you know, your focus on Africa as a market, I think, is really top of mind for a lot of folks. A lot of really, really exciting trends coming out of Africa that I think, you know, we as digital identity practitioners can all learn from. You know, I’ve been very steadfast in my belief that so much innovation in the identity space is coming out of global markets because of those unique market specific challenges. And I think oftentimes those learnings are are highly, highly relevant to, you know, folks in whatever market that they are in. So really excited to have you on. Before we dove into what you’re building with Youverify, would you mind giving us just a little bit about your background? You know, what are you about? How did you come to to co-found Youverify.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:01:22] Originally I studied engineering like a lot of founders. Then I spent the next ten years doing different part of it, but largely consulting for the banks and telcos across Africa, across multiple countries. And I think I had a very successful career. And as part of that process, I felt that there was a gap. Well, what the what the organization I was working for did not provide me the opportunity. But that was then then a big event upfront in my life. My my mom’s account in Nigeria was at she’s retired. She moved back from the UK to Nigeria. And our phones were getting missing in that count. She called me like in the middle of the night, like 2 a.m. crying. And I felt, oh, because I’m a consultant, I know the CTO, I know the CIOs. You know, we can find our money back. So then I then that event opened my eyes to the open secrets that got a big KYC problem, because even though someone is missing, they know the account. You went to the KYC file of those accounts. And I basically know consistence so that, for example, I realized that 70% of people in Africa do not have a proof of address. And why? Why, why don’t have a home address? Because they don’t have utilities to having proof of address. They’re driving credit cards or other proof of address. And they don’t have an address and system to have a proof of address. So and so because the banks have to kind of do accept the risk in most cases or improvise. And so it’s so and so even if they know who you are, they don’t know where to start looking for you. That’s the first problem. So I just said, Oh, this is a big opportunity. And it’s not only a problem that you have in Africa, it’s a problem you have in modern medicine. Told Third World. And we said, oh, let’s, you know, let’s go at it. And that’s how you very fast start it.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:03:25] And that brings us to, you know, what you have built with yoYouverify I think you’re taking. A really interesting approach in terms of. And the both B2B focus, as well as that B2C product and touch point with consumers directly that you have built. So, you know, looking to obviously take a deep dove with you, but at a 15,000 foot level, you know, what’s your elevator pitch around what yoYouverify is and what your value proposition is to your customers to verify.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:03:54] You were basically KYC automation for banks and said, okay, that’s it. We see your customer. So we help banks and start to automate that, you see.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:04:07] And then on the consumer side, so is it safe to call it that? Is the, you know, what you call the flagship product that Youverify operating system that rolls. All the traditional kind of KYC functionality. So address verification, you know, pap and background checks and you know, things like employment history. But then you also have a B2C product that is, I guess, an identity wallet, to be blunt about it. Can you talk about the kind of split between how you’re thinking about the B2B versus B2C sides of the business?


Gbenga Odegbami [00:04:41] Okay. So okay. So with the B2B, we what we have these days to helping our customers automate the compliance processes. And so customers come and we help them approve the, the best customers that they can approve at that particular point in time quickly. And so we said we can take it a step further. The value chain, which is instead of even waiting for your customers to to even provide that information for you, we believe we can we can pre pre approve the customers even before they get to the to our own and customers. So we see a big opportunity for that. So because number one, you it removes your the resume tool we typing in on the website to be filling each multiple forms and to be doing all those things. And we said, okay, we need to have a very, very interconnected entire mobility identity framework. And we said, okay, this is not a problem that has been solved, not about trying to solve it. And since we have over 400 million IDs, you know, we have access to about 40 million ads in the market that we play. We think we can we should we should try to educate people to now move from obviously analog a monolith to these or whatever they think keep the IP. So when you want to apply for or assess any new service, they’re not a flip phone. So that is it. So that’s the so that’s our play in there. So yeah, today we have over 600,000 users working on it, using it.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:06:10] And from a go to market perspective, you know, I think the identity space is it’s a bit of a paradox in the sense that in some regards it’s fairly well penetrated and in other regards it’s kind of the the Wild West. Like, who are you looking to target with your product suite on the B2B side? Is it those large incumbent players? Is it fast moving fintechs? What’s your your go to market approach? And where do you think that market opportunity is is in Africa for, you know, a vertically integrated KYC platform like Youverify.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:06:49] So when we started off, the focus was where the money was and where we thought the money was. And that was the large businesses, the large organizations and and governments. And for our first, I think, two years of existence, we even up to December 20, 21 were really 40 customers, even though we’re doing millions of dollars in year out. But since we buy since then, we’ve decided to democratize that capability because we’ve been we started with the large banks and and and government. So we’ve been able to make sure we’re in compliance with the law, security, regulatory requirement processes. So what we’ve done now is now democratize that and commercialize that and make it available to SMEs. So in the last eight months we’ve been able to acquire more than 600 SMEs just by doing that. So what we’re not doing is that web us to go to expand for that. When I was SMB strategy on our fast moving, growing fintechs. At the same time, keep investing in the large organization because that’s our that’s what we learned from that’s where we perfected our processes. So that’s that’s our own journey. What are people’s journeys different on journeys that we started from the big businesses and we took our learnings from the big businesses because we also use those opportunity with the big businesses and banks to perfect our products to make sure there are regulatory compliance in the market as we play. And so it’s not just fanciness, it’s basically either regulators is a name that they very comfortable because we work with the biggest banks. And so now we’re not take that knowhow and that capability and that us to make it available to our fast moving, fast going fintechs that typically would not have the resources or the knowhow or the the knowledge that is required to just not just making fancy stuff. I just thought that our regulatory compliance. So, so so that’s our store for now we have we’ve gotten to see though our moment also attacking both markets will segment simultaneously even at different markets so I was having a call with somebody today because we do trying to expand to more countries. Supposedly a salesperson in one of the new markets wants to be the country manager for one of the new market. We’re going to. And she asked me, how many new customers do you guys on board? She she she got seven customers in the last one year, which is fantastic, by the way, for me to be salesperson. So so how many customers we get every day and I should I look get actually stand customers a day? And she was like, wow, how do you do that? And I said, Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait. You know, because we have this huge growth system that we’re targeting, fast moving our fintechs, our cost more to the market. So is the self-service. So they they can easily say no. And we get P and we also have a dedicated sales force that targets the named accounts and the large accounts. So on the target them across multiple markets and that’s where she’s going to play. So I’ll just, you know, worry about bringing ten accounts every day. So that is is impossible for her to do. So I think that’s our that’s our own experience and that’s how we’ve been able to that’s what we’re up. We are pushing the market.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:10:00] Why did you feel that there was such an opportunity for an entry like yourself in the African market? I know. One of the things I’m keen to unpack with you is some of those regional differences where you’re able to kind of meet the needs that maybe the larger, more internationally focused players have not been able to. You know, I think financial inclusion, certainly a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of folks, as well as issues like biometric fairness. And, you know, the fact that Western developed biometric models, for example, have been really proven to struggle with darker skin tones, for example, you know, where did you see that market opportunity in Africa and, you know, why did you feel the time was right to to enter in? And I guess, to be more blunt, where have the other players been dropping the ball?


Gbenga Odegbami [00:10:51] Okay. One of the thing is, it’s it’s it is hard work. And I must say, it is a is it it is very slow at work because, for example, let me give you the scenario you want to play in Africa. You have a situation whereby the regulation is going to change the abolitionist a little chilly any soon. And so you have a lot of all these technologies that you believe are going to work. So you might work with some fintechs that also have the regulatory oversight, but immediately go to the to the larger than position that I believe let you cover those kind of KYC technologies. Will not fly will not fly that let you use school scrutiny. So what we did I the concept was that okay so what is the what is the process manually and so how can we automate or digitalize that process? So for example, and so we went out there to do the work. We’re one of the first set of people or entities to do this and walk to what people thought was impossible for them to give. You know, you want to verify a passport. It’s so easy for somebody to just Photoshop, somebody sell speech on a passport on Senate and does it, you know, so you can just watch YouTube and Photoshop your picture on it, on your passport. So it will we pass most of the KYC platform out there. You get into most likely passage. So what about in Africa? Because we know, we assume that people are going to do that. So and this is a question that the banks that want to access. So what we did was that the only way for us to validate or to meet passport verification is to have a direct assessed API access to the passport database in the first place. So when you present a passport, we’re going to when we’re not trusting the information you’re giving us, we’re basically taking that information. I’m going to have to verify it with the authority to database. That means immigration, the the Customs Service that gives you that passport. So for us to now, you know, it’s a very, very tough thing to do to not go and meet your government, especially developing countries. I see you on, assess the alarm bells and whistles, stop flying these out there. You know, so many different things. And so what we were able to do today is and we’ve been able to have access to all the government issued IDs when we had it. We want to have this access at the moment. So we will talk about this access. So that means that, first of all, we’re not able to establish a framework that, you know, existed before, that you can have access to all the IDs and now to meet and basically utilize the process. So most of the foreign player, the large players, the legacy players, this kind of activity will see this is too much of a hassle, this is too much of a choice. Or they might also assume, oh, I would say if let’s say I’m from the UK and I’m going to Ghana to go and have access to the database, the government would think, oh, I mean following spy, you know, I want to. So it’s. So all those things were able to do and able to do the ad work. That’s an example of the things we’re able to do. Another example of the things we’re able to do is the amount of dressing. So we will look like, okay, how do we we know the problem. So loss of we’re going to the problem because we were able to sit down with the local players to stick with us, identify what the problem is. The stick with us won’t solve this problem. But guess what? There’s not addressing. So how do you solve that problem? I saw so many issues at the same time. So we now just basically crowdsourcing with these candidates with a cost sourcing model that works like a dispatch model, get law people, they allow people that are unemployed a lot. The mobile penetration is I saw that on their percent a lot of data we just crowdsource it come on work force just download an app and so money and we use them we send some information to them and say look, go to these GPS location or this address, I’ll take a picture. Acxiom questions and verify this address exists and we’re able to use that to create for address. And so it requires a lot of effort and local innovation for you to be able to pull that off. You know, so I mean, so and so. And that’s what they were not they wouldn’t they would not be able to do because they already have a model that works in the largest market. Why would they want to change their model for a new market? So big risk. And so so what we do Uber far is to basically do that. We are not just creating new models to solve the same problem. We’re also aggregating the fragmented market markets. Also fragmented. Yes, we see why. I think the last time about 700 million people in Africa do not have IDs. 70% of the of the landmass is not does not approve of address. So how can we slow multiple small players solving different things, having some workable systems? One of the things you face doing is aggregating that ecosystem aggressively so you don’t have to talk to multiple players. You can only just fossil from one place. You can have access to multiple market and you can basically provide your services in the market in a regulatory compliance manner. And that’s one of the things and that’s what we’ve done. That’s all new to do. So you sort of it’s all we see some of our customers that I’ve been to, a lot of big companies that we use all over the world and they have not been able to solve that problem yet because they’ve not been able to solve that problem. They’ve not be able to meet the regulatory requirements and those doesn’t meet up despite all these fantastic technologies. You know, they’ve been able to come to us and we have been able to provide those tools that they need to to meet those technologies, to meet those regulatory requirements and and and our use cases. So so that’s what I will say. That’s where it is and is not new. When we somebody has to be the let me say at default now you know we are these is yeah the risk for us is lower than for some of the largest KYC companies co-investing in try it out because they’re going after a lot. People top dollar. There’s a lot of unknowns before all this is on. I don’t know if you go I mean, is also we we we are with the problem. We live with the problem. Well, I think, you know, international experience. No, our with the help of our global investors really. And and try to start with solving the problem and. Yeah. So I think there’s a big difference though with, you know, something.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:17:16] That’s super, super fascinating. So in terms of market specific challenges, you know, I think some of the the things we’ve been seeing, the aforementioned biometric challenges, which I would love to to hear your perspective on. And then what are the other areas in which you feel that? Working in Africa requires a fundamentally different approach, I think, from a device perspective. Certainly the device landscape that you’re likely to see and potentially the types of on device sensors and quality of camera and diversity of types of phones and operating systems that you might see is a lot more disparate than a more concentrated market, like the U.S., where Apple, for example, has a very dominant market position. Is that something that you’ve experienced on the device side? And, you know, how have you been struggling or addressing the challenge, I should say, of dealing with a diversity of device types and, you know, varying qualities of things like cameras, for example?


Gbenga Odegbami [00:18:19] I think we just live with it. It’s not a new trend for us. I think it’s a problem not just for the identity. Space is a problem generally for for, you know, tech innovators. Because let me give you a scenario, if you will, open up when we develop apps, we considerably the the size of the apps in terms of the detail size of the apps, in terms of megabytes as small as possible. Because one of the things, one of the friction of users downloading app is when they check you up on the city data size and it’s too big that going to download it. This is stuff you don’t we don’t care about in the Western world you know, that’s that. But there they are looking at the data size. So that forces you to design and to build and accept your your app in a way that the smaller size. So that’s one. So that’s we because and it’s and that’s one. So because we have also have a very large pool of devices. So you tend to develop your app or your platform for the most for the lower spec. So you say that you do that all you designed it in such a way that you have excluded some spec. And we tend to focus a lot more on Google and Android because that’s probably 90% of the market anyway. So it’s so eat, eat and that’s what we have been able to do. So in terms of come a few years ago, it was a big problem. The but now almost every every phone as it would come out. So it’s not a very big problem anymore. I think two years ago or two months ago, it was a big problem because most phones tonight, they could come in. But now it’s the default coming on. Every phone is quite good. And so so it’s no longer the big problem anymore today. The biggest problem is that is the data download and the storage. They don’t want to install a big heavy app on their phone because they don’t have the storage and they don’t want to download the big app that those are the ones of an app that consumes a lot of data. So we we see that some of the things we have to consider when developing those apps and we have to make decisions in terms of we technology we use. And let me give you a scenario of how this really applies. We have we have over 5000 people that use our agent that Apple’s wi fi addresses, you know, in in one country alone, Nigeria. And most of these people, they use some of the lowest and a mobile phones and they have the low they have very, very poor for guys. You know, you can afford it for $50 a month for data. They can’t even afford $20. So that means that when they’re going to do the job, they want to switch off their app. That means no no data. That means we don’t have access. We don’t have data access to the app either central level. So that means that we have to build the app to work offline. So the question this is stuff that the big guys, despite companies like Uber and Cool and lives, don’t think about. How can you do the Uber app? I almost work offline. Just imagine it. So we have to we have to develop something that works offline because. They might lose network connectivity. The behavior may require them to switch. So these are some of the technical options problems that local innovation episodes to solve. But you know what I’m seeing and this. So it is we solve it, we live with it and we accept it as our reality. And we come up with those innovations to solve those problems. No, we are engineers, regardless of where we are. And so so what we do is, though, we look at the challenges and where this other challenge and we use ones and zeros to solve the problem as much as we can and the information that we have.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:22:03] From a future looking perspective. You know, where do you see the the market headed in Africa with regard to identity? You know, I think we’re seeing varying approaches in the European and the U.S. markets. I think we’re seeing you, the EU anchor on, you know, EADS 2.0 on kind of direct connection with state level issuing databases to put consumer centric digital identities in the hands of individual consumers with a much more hands on approach from those issuing authorities in the U.S., I think we’re headed in an opposite direction. I think we are kind of going to be faced with a patchwork of kind of various state level mobile driver’s license programs, maybe with private companies like Apple or Clear or Airside mobile, you know, sitting over the top, providing a vessel to maybe hold store and federate those credentials. Where do you think we’re headed in Africa? Do you think, you know, there will be government led ID initiatives, or are you hopeful that, you know, there still going to be a long market opportunity for your consumer centric wallet to really play a role in, you know, empowering consumers to control their own digital identities on a daily basis?


Gbenga Odegbami [00:23:24] Yeah, I think the beauty of Africa is that we are extremely I would put it like very progressive capitalist continent as a whole. So it could be the governments will always try to solve the problem and go with the EU approach. But the government also knows that the the they have not been able to solve all the problems and they’ve been they failed miserably in solving most of the problems. So the most progressive countries really allow entrepreneurs to lead the way. Just like in the United States, they allow it to happen in order to come up with innovation and products that can solve the problem for them. So the for my own for my own experience, they are very open to this. They will keep trying to solve the problem. But if venture partners can lead the way and solve the problem for them is fair game. And you’ll see it in multiple times that I occurred in Nigeria. Like in Nigeria, the government try to own and control telecommunication. But over the years they failed and they opened it up to the private sector. That was that could drive it. And the same thing is happening in power. The same thing is happening in many infrastructure. And we see that that’s the event for for the fintech explosion that you have in Africa today. Originally, it was being controlled and no extremely regulated by government in some form and determine what happens. But government itself decided to open it up to innovation. And as they open it, it has created an explosion of innovation. And and that’s where we we play it. We believe it to play. Because one of the things we do Youverify, is that we always get to the regulator is there’s only government involved. So our B2C portals us, for example, we got government involved in Nigeria. The government have their own mobile I.D. service. I want to see and this is very popular is and in some cases it is mandatory. That’s about the million users. And but, you know, so government of their own their own initiative. So but our own initiative does not try to disrupt all government initiative. We basically just come up with our vision on our unique use cases and and we go to the market, which it so is left for the market to decide which one. Of course, government will try to, you know, be fair sometimes as usual, which is which is expected. But but these are what we have experienced government just want to make big get their taxes and solve people’s problem. So wherever the solution comes from, they are largely okay regardless of what government is. What party is is in government.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:26:01] So what’s next? I know we took a bit of a, you know, a forward looking stab at where you’re hopeful on the ID front. You know, more broadly for the identity market in Africa, what are you hopeful to see in terms of, you know, whether it’s financial inclusion, whether it’s deployment of new technologies, like what are you hopeful to see? And, you know, maybe what are some some things that are a few years out that you hope we can make progress to, you know, in 2022 and beyond?


Gbenga Odegbami [00:26:29] Yeah. So I’m hopeful that. We have more identity, portability and mobility. I think that is going to that’s something that we are placing a big bet on our place in, a big bet on that identity portable item and that’s what the likes of the Apple Google are trying to do with the driver’s license are digitalization so that you can move your idea across yourself or your digital devices anywhere and is very portable. And so it’s. So that’s one of the things we are betting on. But one of the things we’re also doing is that we are not just betting on it. We also try to create value upfront for it. So using the hoping that we can drive customer adoption based on our value. So what we are doing is not just creating the technology on the use case for you, but also creating the the commercial value for our partners and investing in that for our partners so that they can see value in it. And that’s one of the things we do because we have a very large ecosystem of people use and also a compliance automation. So and people that are acquiring new customers who basically telling them that you can acquire customers faster with our identity systems, you know what I’m saying? So if you are adopt identity system, you can acquire customers faster. And that’s the kind of value chain we believe that we believe we will get to. Because in in part of this world, one of the biggest adoption of crypto, for example, we adopt crypto I see is a fiat basically. And so I don’t know if you know that. And, and crypto has not been as regulated as other aspects. So we are still talking about gaming less, talking about the web through the metaverse. All these things are waiting to be in terms of identity. And so those are the species we believe that our identity for that is going to really disrupt, understand what I’m saying? So and there’s that new generation of people that that that are being prompted, jokes that are being pumped out, that they grew up, that the mobile phone generation, that the only way they know to identify themselves, the only way they know to outside the service is on the full. They are basically they leave everything bleached. Everything is on the phone, the entertainment, what they consume, the transport, their food is on the phone. So what we’re basically doing is just with guidance on the phone. So it works will allow them identify themselves to the web3 services, crypto services. So. So that’s what we are doing. Well, basically taking that knowhow that has been proven over the years, tried and tested by the extremely regulated sector and making it very user friendly and beginning to commoditize the needs for users making it available in in that space. So that’s where we are placing bet on. And so far, so good. You have to place a bet somewhere. I think if you don’t kick, you don’t score. So and that’s what I bet is. And so. Yeah.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:29:23] Amazing. Well, this has been so, so illuminating. Always love to get, you know, global perspectives on these issues, because I think the worst thing you can do is really stay blinkered to only what’s going on in one particular market. Shameless plug opportunity for folks listening who are interested to get in touch with you to learn more about you, verify how they might deploy it, or, you know, want to get in touch for investment opportunities or other reasons, like what is the best place for them to reach out.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:29:52] Our website, which is you verified those so they can learn more about us that they can always send an email to us. My name, my emails are being identified. OCO, I put it out there. So does GGbenga. You like y0u we i if I don’t see you? Yeah. So then we then we can. You can always watch us at those places.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:30:18] Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time and looking forward to having you on again soon.


Gbenga Odegbami [00:30:24] Yeah, sure. And have a good one.


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