Africa has an identity problem. The World Bank estimates there are 1.5 billion citizens in developing countries with no way of formally proving their identity. Africa represents a substantial chunk of this. As with many problems, overcoming this challenge presents huge opportunities for development. The successes of many African economies in the past decade has been great to see. In many ways, technology is proving to be the ultimate liberator of the continent.

Smartphone penetration in Africa, while variable, is generally high and continues to grow year on year. Africans have done a better job of maximizing the benefits of smartphones and associated apps than their counterparts in more developed countries. In a continent where many millions of citizens have been excluded from commerce and other state and private services, mobile commerce has provided a big part of the answer.

The Fraud Problem

Where disruption takes place, fraudsters will often be the first to innovate and exploit the new opportunities. With mobile money being used heavily, particularly in East Africa, one’s phone becomes one’s bank account. Fraudsters have innovated with SIM swap scams resulting in the innocent party being locked out of their phone for a while – often returning to find their accounts have been drained.

Telco’s in Africa are under increasing pressure from regulators as well as customers to come up with adequate solutions. In Tanzania for example, the telecommunications regulatory authority with the government is introducing legislation to force Telco’s to register their customers biometrically. This is intended to achieve tighter control of the registration of SIM cards against a unique biometric identity as well as the process of replacing SIMs when they are damaged or lost.

The Fraud Solution

This is where what we call “selfie KYC” comes in. Selfie KYC is about putting in place a process to quickly and easily prove an individual’s identity through their phone. The reason we focus on selfie KYC is fairly obvious. Although fingerprint biometrics is very established and in use in many situations in Africa, there are 2 main problems with this:

  • In rural areas, fingerprints are often hard to read as peoples’ hands are worn – often from manual labour
  • More importantly, fingerprinting requires hardware. These scanners are expensive, they are prone to getting lost or stolen and they break. They also require maintenance.

So, the best way forward is to manage identity without specialised additional hardware and the phone is the best way to do so. This can be done at different levels of security although we recommend the following process:

  1. Citizen is sent a link or downloads the app for their phone and is requested to register.
  2. Citizen scans a government issued ID doc with their phone and the doc is forensically assessed in real time to determine its validity.
  3. If valid, the individual is prompted to take a selfie. The selfie is then matched to the photo on their ID doc.
  4. If this is successful, the individual is successfully registered and their SIM number is associated with their unique biometric profile.

What’s stopping the progress?

Some traditionalists tend to raise objections like… “how can you scan a document and validate it accurately”? We know that studies have shown that our technology is 100x more accurate in matching faces than trained passport officers.

It’s possible to go further than geolocate someone when they register so an exact location can be associated with a profile. Adding another biometric factor such as voice can enable even tighter security. There are also some emerging technologies enabling fingerprinting through finger selfies. The beauty of this again is that hardware is avoided.

So, selfie KYC can be the 4 – step process outlined above but it can also include other factors such as voice and fingerprint. All of these, without using specialist and expensive hardware. If you’re interested in finding out more about the biometric selfie KYC and how facial recognition can help prove identity download our brochure here.

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