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…… A typical conversation between a fraudster and a prospective victim ..
[SFX] Phone rings … picks.
Frausdter: Good day sir, my name is James, from Access Bank. Am I speaking with Mr Koffi Zawadi?
Customer: Yes, you are. How can I help you?
Fraudster: Yeah, so there’s a problem with your account verification and I’m calling to walk you through it.
Customer: Hope I don’t have to be coming to your bank? I’m very busy.
Fraudster: No sir, all you need to do is give us some details. I can see you live at No. 6 Ozumba Mbadiwe and your date of birth is 5th of July, 1987.
Customer: Yes, correct.
Fraudster: Okay, just provide me with your BVN, and ATM card details.
Customer: ATM card details and BVN? Why?
Fraudster: It’s for verification, sir. Don’t you want to sort out your problem?
Customer: See, you think I don’t know who you are?… (hurls insults and fades out)
Narrator: If you’ve received such a call before, you probably know at least ten people who have also. And this is because these types of calls are pretty rampant. But have you ever wondered how these people know your name, your address, and sometimes your account details?
On this episode of Built in Africa, we delve into how Ghanaian based startup, BACE Group (spelt as BACE) uses state of the art technology to tackle the problem of identity theft in Africa.
As the African continent comes to grips with new technologies, research has shown that its people and companies are highly susceptible to cyber thefts and fraud. These incidents are rarely reported by companies, so it’s actually difficult to arrive at a solution.
However, at the 2017 edition of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), four young African entrepreneurs — two Ivorians, a Nigerian, and a Ghanaian — decided that this was the challenge they wanted to overcome.
Charlette N’Guessan, Arinze Christopher Ugwu, Samuel Sowah Mensah, and Jean Cedric Attiembonon all met at the MEST programme, and in 2018, the BACE group was formed.
Voice actor: “Our solution, BACE API, is a digital identity verification system that uses facial recognition powered by Artificial intelligence.”
Narrator: That’s Charlette N’Guessan, BACE Group’s CEO and the only woman on the founding team. As a network and software engineer, N’Guessan, has trained organisations on the adoption of technology in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
For N’Guessan and her teammates, if a veritable verification-as-a-service product must be built, it has to make use of the commonest means of biometric identification fit for the African market – face recognition.
Voice actor: “We were looking at something that would make our solution stand out from the existing security software available on the market. So, we decided to use facial recognition as a biometric technology because we believe that the uniqueness of the individual is at the heart of good digital identity management.
I mean like really, to be honest, facial recognition is the most natural of all biometric measurements. After all, as humans, we recognise ourselves not by looking at our fingers or irises but by looking at our faces.”
Narrator: With this perspective in mind, they went ahead to build an application programming interface (API) for facial recognition which companies can plug into for their ID verification and validation needs.
So how does the BACE API work?
Voice actor: “So, the API begins its verification process by confirming if the person is alive, real and not a robot. It then presents the deductions to a human behind the screen who validates the person’s identity.
Simultaneously, it extracts the data on the identity document provided and matches it with facial biometrics in an issuing authority or government department.”
Narrator: Besides solving the problem of identity fraud, the BACE API will also help financial institutions provide their services to their customers remotely. Customers no longer have to visit physical offices since they can verify their identities from the comfort of their homes.
As a B2B solution, N’Guessan confirms the API is built on high-security standards and can run on existing systems. Although with a particular focus on financial institutions, the BACE Group also serves establishments in transportation, telecommunications, security, and schools.
The pandemic, for all its troubles, has been somewhat helpful to BACE’s cause. More companies — especially those that require high levels of customer-facing activity — now see reasons to adopt its innovative solution
Voice actor: “You know, using our product, businesses can now authenticate and onboard new or existing customers without having to show up in person. The whole process is transparent, secure, remote, and digital. Imagine the level of ease this brings.”
Narrator: Operating an advanced innovation like BACE can be challenging in emerging markets like Africa. Asides the fact that businesses do not fully trust the startup yet to handle private data, government regulations don’t exactly encourage innovation. But N’Guessan says the startup will not rest on its laurels.
Voice actor: (Chuckles) “Well, we are aware of this, and we have been working to build trust, educate our target, and build quality and secure products. Also, we signed strategic partnerships to get more support and drive our works.”
Narrator: N’Guessan, recently won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, and she believes it will help the business earn the recognition it deserves.
To leverage this, the startup plans to push for some major partnerships, intensify customer acquisition, and include other African markets.
As the pandemic spread across Africa, BACE Group made a very strategic move to acquire more customers. It allowed businesses struggling with KYC and online identity breaches to integrate their APIs at a discounted rate. While this was an incentive, the selected businesses must be willing to use the tool for three months.
As the startup moves into a full commercialisation stage, the founder believes that there are always untapped opportunities in Africa that create room for innovation. Ultimately, the success of a startup on the continent strongly depends on how well it can survive despite challenges.
Thank you for listening to Built In Africa.
The voice you heard in this episode for N’Guessan was simulated.
This script was adapted by Emmanuel Paul
Research and interview by Oluwanifemi Kolawole
Sound design by Oghenekaro Obrutu
This is a production of Techpoint Africa
I am Precious Mogoli
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