How this fast-growing, funded Nigerian startup has its roots in a robbery

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Nigerian startup VerifyMe, which offers customers such as banks and retailers access to trusted KYC data via API and portal, is expanding into new markets after raising Series A funding a year ago. But it has its roots in a robbery.

In 2011, Olutunji Oluwole hired a cook, who poisoned him and his entire family, robbing their home. A few weeks later, this “cook” assumed another identity and infiltrated another household in the same estate to commit the same crime. 

“At the time, it was easy to change identities because the systems in place had not linked IDs to biometrics. The criminal’s plans were foiled by Olutunji and other concerned members of the community. Olutunji realised that the problem of trust in hiring needed to be solved and decided to start VerifyMe,” Esigie Aguele, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) told Disrupt Africa.

VerifyMe is an ID verification and digital KYC startup, which says it is closing the credibility gap in business by delivering trusted identities to industries, making it possible for individuals to open accounts and get services on-demand seamlessly, even remotely. 

The startup’s open APIs enable fintechs to offer contactless customer onboarding with facial recognition technology for added security, providing services such as National Identity Number (NIN), Bank Verification Number (BVN), and drivers’ license verifications with real-time biometric capabilities, seamless traditional Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) tier III address and employment verifications, and a next-generation addressing solution that leverages 4D trajectory and geo-location to improve last-mile authentication.

“Our addressing service allows applicants to participate in the last-mile authentication process by digitally making themselves easy to locate. This service enables them to get access to services and receive orders. We rolled out this solution in November, and it is proving to be a game-changer in resolving addressing issues for our customers,” Aguele said.

The startup has evolved since 2014, when it began operations offering background checks for businesses and homes. It became an ID technology company in 2016 as it realised the issue of trust was industry-wide. 

“This problem led to high costs of transactions due to the increased risk to businesses for rendering services. Today we are proud to say 30 per cent of commercial banks in Nigeria use our services, and we are looking to make that 100 per cent,” said Aguele.

“With over 500 million Africans lacking an officially recognised form of identification, we knew that a KYC infrastructure layer that involved verification, as well as enrollment of citizens for inclusion, would close the financial inclusion gap while reducing risk to businesses. Africa’s economic growth is limited because without proper ID, it’s challenging to grow trusted transactions at scale.”

VerifyMe raised a Series A funding round from Consonance Investment Managers last January, and has been growing since then in spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“Our verification transactions have increased 50X since January, with 30 per cent of commercial banks using one of our products. We added over nine banks this year alone. In addition, we now support over 60 lenders and micro-lenders with our APIs. Our transaction volume is 100X compared to 2019,” said Aguele.  

“We have seen our fintech and API customers grow 20X since January. In terms of revenues, we are certainly 10X compared to 2019 and expect to be profitable in early 2021 meeting a US$2 million revenue target.”  

The startup is now looking at international expansion, and will begin operations in three other African countries in the next six months – Ghana, Ivory Coast, and one other.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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