JAVIER MIRA

Spain 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Javier Mira, CEO of FacePhi, on facial recognition in Latin America, other areas of potential growth, and expectations for the year ahead.

Can you tell us about the history of FacePhi?

FacePhi was founded in 2012. The program is based on several algorithms to bring facial recognition to a massive market. When we began, we knew that facial recognition was for surveillance and accessing systems securely. We thought that with the right algorithms we could access the massive market. We also thought using a webcam for applications would help the financial sector and many others. In the beginning, we were unsure where and how to focus. However, after having many meetings with the different sectors, we decided to certify the technology after trialing the product in the financial sector. We worked with many banks to adapt the technology. We have the algorithm and the product. We were trying to adapt one to fit the other. We felt in order to have transparency, the company needed to go public. We did this for our image, showing that our company is being audited. We wanted the transparency. We are actually the only one that is public still today. Without any revenue or any client, we made this step on July 1, 2014. By the end of that year, we had closed several deals with banks in Costa Rica. We focus on Latin America because we thought the Spanish brand was well recognized in that region, and the technology is also well recognized in that market. While there was a financial crisis in Europe, Latin America was growing. Not only is it a market with money to invest, Latin America is also a region with a large amount of identity fraud. Once we had several cases for success, things snowballed from there. We have been closing deals with eight to 10 banks a year since. Today, we have more than 30. We ended 2018 with 6 million users and about 500 million applications for facial recognition. Now the company offers several biometrics in addition to facial recognition. There is a big demand for these in digital boarding, fulfilling the “know your customer” (KYC) requirement. We are quite happy with 2018's results. We had an increase of 66% in revenue. The company is doing well.

To what do you owe such an increase in revenue?

Our expansion will continue here on out. We have a few accounts in Europe, however 85% of our revenue comes from Latin America. We have focused there and we find it easy to replicate success now that we are established. We have opened a subsidiary in Asia, in Seoul, Korea. We participated in the Singapore Money 2020 in March 2018. We see the market demand for biometric technologies. We have been going to different countries almost every month to analyze financial institutions and government regulation. The idea is also to open one in the US, which is a market that we need to touch. Europe will come step by step. I would not say that the competition is higher in Europe. There has not been a case of success for any company similar to FacePhi here. The regulation is extreme here in terms of privacy concerns, which is why we are always behind the US and Latin America. I would say the UK has slightly more open regulation, and we have a few proofs of concept with some banks there. It is true that in Latin America we want to increase awareness of disruptive technology. People were initially weary of using biometrics and its implications. We combined our efforts with the financial sector. I also do a lot of conferences to explain the technology and user experience. There is still a lot of work to do. However, we are already looking at biometrics differently than we did five years ago. Three years ago, web banking was a top priority for banks. Now it is mobile applications. All technologies related to this mobile world are at the top of the digital transformation for the big entities. I see this trend continuing.

In what other sectors do you see growth potential?

The financial sector is the top client that we may have for facial recognition, for example, with ATMs. I would say that e-commerce and e-health are sectors impacting this technology. The government is now implementing these kinds of technologies. They are all related to the actions citizens are capable of doing by using mobile applications from any entity. That is where biometrics will be implemented as a method to identify customers. Before biometrics, we could not say who we were. We have some alliances with companies that are investigating new algorithms. It will be a long path, but it is going well. There is a balance between convenience and security with biometrics, so that the battle for privacy and data concerns is being won by biometrics. On average, a person has 25 passwords to remember. The most commonly used password worldwide is 123456. That means generally no security is given to a password. Biometrics is bringing certainty to security. However, there is still a large gap to fill in terms of awareness. People need to understand how good biometrics are. We also need to ensure the algorithms comply with rule and are open to regulations. We certainly see regulation as a positive.

How do you approach your Latin American clients? Why do they partner with you?

I would say that all start ups need to change the way they act from day one. We started by seeing people in IT departments of banks. We went to exhibitions and shows, too. I do a lot of conferences, which is a good way for us to demonstrate our product. IT people were interested in the technology. But they also have a lot of projects on the table, which means having to establish a long-term relationship. Then, we met with security people, who were interested in the technology. However, they also need to do their own job, with long-term priorities and bank strategies. We also met business people, who are in charge of growing the channel. The mobile app specialist has a target of going from 500,000 users to three million. And this is the person within the bank that we needed to approach to manage the project. Then, from a few cases of success, we were able to grow quite rapidly. We set goals for a smaller number of banks to help them with the integration and customer experience, even with social network messages to improve understanding. We help the banks in every aspect. We prefer to have 20 or 30 banks truly satisfied with the technology. When CaixaBank or HSBC show interest, then there are enough references to demonstrate the ease of implementation, the positive customer experience, and adoption rate.

How do you maintain your algorithms in the rapidly evolving technology sector?

We do this in two ways. One is the R&D related to the algorithm for facial recognition. This requires a lot of continuous investment. Now there is huge demand for facial recognition that was not there three years ago. This requires the latest technology. On the other hand, there are the cases of success where banks want to see our portfolio of products. People are looking for more in biometrics; therefore, we have different alliances with fingerprinting, periocular technology, voice, and signature. A portfolio must continue to grow to maintain a leadership position. We do tailor-made solutions for clients depending on their scenario. For the case of CaixaBank, we rolled out technology with Fujitsu for ATMs. FacePhi, however, is really focused on the mobile channel.