We commemorated International ID day on September 16 by partnering with TechCabal to create an online series called Identity Matters. Identity Matters was designed to promote conversations about digital identity and its impact on Africa. The theme of this edition was: Enabling Nigeria’s economic and social growth with digital identity.
The webinar brought two industry veterans together to explore the state of digital identity in Nigeria: Mitchell Elegbe, Founder / Group Managing Director, Interswitch and Esigie Aguele, Co-Founder and CEO, VerifyMe Nigeria.
Chidi Uguru, Head of Partnerships, Big Cabal Media moderated the event, facilitating a discussion on how digital ID will unlock the immense potential in Nigeria’s e-governance and Digital Economy.
Esigie started the discussion by stating that “Nigeria being the first country to recognise September 16 as National ID-day shows that the Federal Government understands the pivotal role digital identity will play to grow the economy, particularly the non-oil sector.”
“One of the key problems in the non-Oil sector in terms of economic growth is access to services like credit to scale businesses. A robust identity ecosystem will enable the informal sector to grow into small and medium-sized businesses and will provide more income for the financial services sector.”
“Digital identity matters because we need to have a clear line of sight to create more revenue, taxes, jobs and security”.
Mitchell Elegbe also gave his take on why Nigerians should care about digital identity, saying, “As long as there’s a need to exchange value irrespective of the form, there will always be a need for identity. It doesn’t matter if you are in the formal or informal sector we have to know who you are. Human interaction cannot take place if you don’t know whom you are dealing with.”
He shed some more light on one of the critical identity challenges his company Interswitch is currently facing with regards to identity. He said, “It is easy for the banked population to be KYC complaint because of BVN. However, our mobile money agents have no way of verifying the identity of the people who pay/receive physical cash through them. They are engaging with individuals that are not formally included in the financial system. In the cases where fraud takes place, the agent can not tell who the perpetrator. KYC needs to go beyond the formal databases and reach the 200million Nigerians.”
Esigie responded by saying “VerifyMe is not just in the identity verification ‘game’, but we also offer enrolment services and have been in discussions with NIMC to support the digital identity ecosystem. We’ve looked at the exact problem you are facing, and through our network of 8000 agents are building enrolment capabilities to reach the 160 million undocumented Nigerians. We are continually improving our agent distribution to continue to be Nigeria’s largest identity verification network.”
Our CEO talked about harmonising the various types of identities in Nigeria. He stated that “While we have siloed identity systems in Nigeria, harmonisation is taking place thanks to efforts by NIMC and other public and private stakeholders. VerifyMe achieves harmonisation by leveraging on our One API gateway which is connected to all of Nigeria’s most authoritative data sources: NIN, BVN and Driver’s licence.
“While VerifyMe is not a fintech company, we are fintech-enabling. We empower fintech companies to grow and generate revenue and create employment opportunities.
The Interswitch GMD also commented on what he believed would make all Nigerians register for NIN. “We need to segment the population and think about the incentives for different citizens based on socio-economic status. There are many ways to create incentives for them, but it won’t be one-size-fits-all but over time once we have this mindset, then the government will look for the right ones to put in front of them to come and get formally registered. It comes down to the government creating incentives that will make the everyday Nigerian take part in NIN.”
Esigie also chimed in saying, “The responsibility of creating incentives rests on both the government and the private sector. This is because incentives can be looked at from 2 perspectives: financial inclusion and social inclusion. For a person in the informal sector, he can be incentivized to be digitally included by the promise of access to financial services like cashless transfers, increased transaction limits and micro-credit. Another approach would be to use social incentives like conditional cash transfers for relief and scholarships. These types of incentives help to create an ecosystem where everyone in Nigeria will see the need to get their NIN.”
Mr Elegbe finished his discussion with his take on how better KYC in Nigeria can help the fintech industry. His words were, “A robust identity ecosystem will remove some of the KYC restrictions that exist and will enable more fintech services to be offered in Nigeria. We need to get KYC sorted out in a way that when you want to verify someone, it happens immediately. When verifying people becomes automated, then speed to do transactions is almost immediate.
It is a big issue for financial services companies to ensure that we know our customers. We need to ensure that the system checks databases regularly to see if people have been flagged. The fact that a person was credible 5 minutes ago does not mean they will still be credible 2 minutes later. With the increasing speed of transactions, the most efficient way to deal with this is digitally.”
The event ended with a question and answer session where the speakers gave further insights into the state of digital identity in Nigeria.