Changing the face of global economic access
AI is revolutionizing authentication processes, and one Carey student’s security solution is changing the way African countries verify identities.
What began with a young Nigerian man forgetting his wallet in 2019 is now a multinational data verification system processing two million verifications a month using facial recognition technology.
MBA student Lanre Ogungbe experienced first-hand the frustration of life without artificial intelligence and Know Your Customer technology, or KYC, when he was trying to buy something without his cash or cards.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I just pay with my face?’,” he said. “‘I know it’s me so how can I make them know that too?’”
Soon, Ogungbe and three others started Identitypass as a payment solution. He says the Lagos-based company was initially going to be a platform that would use biometrics to make payments. But when they pitched to a few businesses, they realized they would be dealing with verification issues, with the businesses not being certain that the person purchasing is who they say they are.
Ogungbe then reached out to colleagues at financial technology firms, or fintechs, and asked how they verify customer identities. The feedback from his colleagues was to have a compliance team monitor transactions, flag accounts, and contact customers when they see suspicious activity to have them send their cards back or wait for a new one.
“I knew their systems were never going to work for us. It was all too manual,” he said.
So Ogungbe and his co-founders pivoted. Now, less than four years after that frustrating moment making a purchase, Identitypass is a compliance and security solution, and the fastest-growing data verification provider in Africa. It serves not only Nigeria but also Kenya, Sierra Lone, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Utilizing artificial intelligence
Identitypass uses AI in a variety of ways, the biggest one being individual facial recognition. And while the company has perfected its verification system, the founders are investing in new AI technologies to understand cultural distinctions.
“Many people in the African countries have tribal marks, and technologies usually do not take that into consideration,” Ogungbe explained. “We are working to include that more and more into our services. When we see tribal marks, we’d like for everyone to know the region they belong to.”
And that isn’t the only AI service Ogungbe is working on. He says Identitypass is using AI to interpret individuals’ behavioral attributes to form questions only that specific person can answer. Utilizing KYC technology, Ogungbe says this will be an alternative form of identification.
“Behavioral KYC comes into play when a verified individual has an unusual behavior,” he said. “For instance, if we know that you live in Baltimore, but your credit card is being used in Texas, that new form of authentication – the questions only you can answer – will come up to verify you are the one making the purchase.”
Since there are many data points that can pinpoint who a person is in various contexts, such as debit cards or license plates, Ogungbe and his team are looking into categorizing the most useful data points for different sectors and use cases.
An equitable playing field
Identitypass recognizes government issued IDs, passports, phone numbers, credit history, tax records, and more to help verify that an individual or business is real. Their system can spot fraudulent activity within seconds, reducing a process that would normally take weeks to do in some African countries.
Ogungbe says that one unique aspect of their efforts is their work with customers in developing markets.
“We have customers in the UK, India, Canada, Australia, the United States – all big markets. But the biggest chunk of our customers is in Africa,” he said. “We work with customers or banks in Kenya who, as an example, might be receiving money from someone in the United States. We will help the bank verify both individuals before the money goes through,” he said.
Ogungbe says over 800 million people globally do not have any form of identification. Of that number, 85 percent are in Africa. Not having ID means they are cut off from many products and services.
“Because of our system, there are more people who typically wouldn’t have access to credit facilities being verified. We’re now seeing so many fintechs providing credits and loans to people based off the verification of their phone numbers, or addresses,” he said. “We are providing financial inclusion to many of the African countries.”
On the company level, Identitypass can verify businesses outside the region to make it possible for their products to be globally available. “No one should be cut off from having the same level of quality and services as other markets just because they cannot be verified,” he said.
The company is also able to provide background checks to prove work history and identity. As a result, there are more job opportunities for people in emerging markets.
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Understanding the language
Ogungbe says the company moves all aspects of the data – sourcing, labeling, modeling, and languages –into its AI stack to be coded on the back end, so customers can easily understand the front end. Understanding those technologies, languages, and models was the direct result, he says, of his Data Science: Artificial Intelligence course at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
“I’m now able to jump in and provide my own opinions. I know what it means to build an AI system and what is needed. I can look at the operational side of the business, understand the language, and help improve our whole AI stack,” he said.
That’s not the only net gain from his time at Carey. Dealing with large companies and investors, Ogungbe says he’s the first to hop on a call with executives to negotiate.
“Using my business communication and negotiation skills, I understand how to operate as a business owner. I’ve utilized the skills from those courses in my business, and I think they are a large part in why we are successful today.”
Since launching Identitypass, the company has raised over $3 million US. It is backed by Y Combinator, a technology startup accelerator that helps fund early-stage startups. Y Combinator’s typical acceptance rate is two percent, making Identitypass a member of the most successful accelerator in the world.
Visit Carey's Instagram page to hear Lanre discuss his company, Identitypass.