• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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‘Nigeria needs evolved regulation, governance to protect our national security data’

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Esigie Aguele is the CEO and co-founder of VerifyMe Nigeria, a verification platform that enables seamless, real-time ID verifications backed by the Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank Verification Number (BVN), and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) Driver’s Licenses. In this exclusive interview with Jumoke Akiyode-Lawanson, he talks about the increased need for digital identities especially in uncertain COVID-19 times, why local content is key for identity data privacy and security, and other important issues in the tech/ID verification space. Excerpts.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on economies across the world, including Nigeria. What has been the impact of the pandemic on the Nigerian ID Verification space, especially given that it is a relatively young industry?

The short-term impact, like for everybody else, is a limit in the mobility of our verification community, so revenue was impacted. In the long term, it shed light on the need for out-of-the-box services for both banked and unbanked people.

So while we saw an initial dip, our integration pipeline has grown ten-fold during this period. As such, it has accelerated the need for our offerings in the financial services industry and other sectors where trusted data for customer onboarding is key.

A major value proposition for VerifyMe is the claim to enabling industry growth through trust. Considering the instabilities of the COVID-19 climate, how can organisations leverage trust for recovery?

This is a great question. Whether you are looking to open bank accounts remotely or onboard customers for insurance, you need to provide your services to the masses and do so using trusted data about your customer. Our clients are looking for the ability to process trusted ID verifications across multiple secure sources to expand their customer base. We provide trusted and secure ID verifications from all sources as well as an additional last-mile verification layer with that ID.

VerifyMe says it is on a mission to build Nigeria’s first eKYC infrastructure. How has the journey been so far? And, how soon before it arrives at the destination?

A loaded question. The journey has been difficult, complex, and rewarding all in one. For us, this comes from a personal story of Tunji, our founder, and his family getting poisoned and robbed. There was a resolve to do something to ensure Nigerians have access to trusted ID verification and employment data. To see a product in the market, thriving and being used by over 30,000 employers and how we have evolved to providing eKYC to the financial sector and service industry is certainly rewarding. Regarding the destination, that is tough to say. I think “when we get there” is a function of our resolve as a country – both private and public sectors. There is still a lot of work in the regulation and oversight area that will need to take place to facilitate a very mature state of eKYC in Nigeria. I can’t say when we will get there. What I can say is every day we step towards getting there, and we are determined.

About 41.6 percent of the Nigerian population are excluded from the formal financial system, many of whom are shut out due to illiteracy, inadequate infrastructure and inefficient technology-based facilities by service providers. How realistic is KYC data in these circumstances towards achieving financial inclusion for all citizens?

The reality of the Nigerian eKYC market is that it’s a hybrid between ID verification services and last-mile expertise. Our sheer reach puts us ahead of the competition. Also, our technology includes self-auditing and process auditing functions which make our data trusted and CBN tier 3 complaint. Given this strategic combination, I will say eKYC data is very realistic as we have been able to develop a solution and system of processes to meet these challenges and meet our clients’ eKYC needs. For example, we partnered with Jobberman to expand our agent network to almost 10,000 agents. These intentional actions have also given us a pricing advantage in the market.

VerifyMe is exposed to sensitive citizen data due to the nature of its operations. From an industry perspective, what protocols should API companies put in place to ensure the integrity of the data collection and management processes?

First, I feel this is one of those areas where “local content” is key. There is a huge responsibility that comes with holding the identity data of a country. It has moral, national security, and privacy regulation implications, and we take this very seriously. We are licensed by all relevant government agencies and adhere to all NIMC, NITDA and NGPR regulation. We also go the extra mile by implementing internal controls to ensure our data is very secure. One of the things that makes us Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliant is that our system of processes is geared toward collecting data in a trusted fashion; keeping and updating records to protect against tampering.

Still on data privacy and security, there are concerns about the growing presence of unlicensed API companies and even foreign firms providing the service in Nigeria without the requisite local approvals to do so. Are there any regulatory frameworks to guide activities in the industry, and what measures are put in place to ensure compliance?

I believe this is something regulatory agencies are working on getting a handle on as they become aware. But I think earlier we discussed the need for evolved regulation and governance to meet the times and protect our national security data.

Technology companies and companies leveraging technology for key transactions are seen as winners amid the COVID-19 disruptions as their operations were not or, at most, were minimally impacted. What are your thoughts on this based on the VerifyMe experience?

This is accurate. One thing the last few months has taught us as a company is that we are on the right track. We have received very positive client feedback on our eKYC and ID verification products.

Against the background of conspiracy theories about 5G that has fueled resistance to it and other advanced technology in some quarters, what do you think the future holds for companies like VerifyMe Nigeria that are heavily dependent on new technologies to create digital identities for Nigerians?

We welcome 5G. Of course, better network coverage means better last-mile reach in many cases. There are always conspiracy theories about new technologies, but I’m not too worried about that. 5G is coming, and we welcome it.

Many organisations are re-inventing themselves in the face of current economic and social realities that have redefined business, perhaps forever. How is VerifyMe positioning itself to stay relevant in the new global reality?

The changes we had to make were mostly internal. For example, going from 95 percent of our staff coming into the office to 100 percent remote. But our products are built for both in-person verifications and companies looking to onboard customers remotely, so if anything, the need for VerifyMe in business workflows was highlighted as opposed to us needing to pivot.