Mobile ID World president Peter O’Neill recently had the opportunity to speak with Javier Mira, Executive Vice-President, FacePhi. The conversation begins with a history of FacePhi and the company’s powerful mobile biometric banking solution. The two also talk about FacePhi’s involvement in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program and why 2015 was a validating year for the company.
Peter O’Neill, President, Mobile ID World (MIDW): Can you please tell our readers about the background of the company?
Javier Mira, Executive Vice-President, FacePhi (FP): FacePhi was born in Alicante, Spain, in 2006 when the founder of the company was trying to determine if there was existing facial recognition technology ready to be implemented in several solutions outside of banking. After that we started hiring people from different universities with experience developing algorithms. We then started having meetings with financial institutions and with device manufacturers to see if we could develop a ready to use solution for mass market. We started to create several platforms in order to create a secure technology that was user friendly yet easy to integrate into a web service.
At the same time, we discovered during meetings with several banks that the idea was suitable for laptops, etc., but finance was heading towards mobile banking rather than other platforms. So we switched the R&D of the company to mobile devices in order to use the camera in the devices, phones, laptops, tablets, etc., and we created the technology specifically for these types of devices rather than in other sectors such as PC’s etc.
We started showing our technology about three years ago to end users and we had a great deal of interest to start pilot programs and proof of concept. We started signing contracts in 2014 with some banks in Latin America and today we are about to be leaders in the market with 8 banks using our technology and the expectation to sign another 10-15 this year.
MIDW: When we met at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month you were telling me about your facial recognition mobile banking solution, can you update our readers about Selfie, which I think you described had a new generation of algorithm that learns?
FP: Yes, that is correct. As I said a few minutes ago, the idea of the company was to be able to supply facial recognition to several platforms, but two years ago we decided to focus on mobile banking. During these last two years we have developed a facial recognition that really focuses on mass devices or tablets in order to help financial institutions to replace the password and username with facial recognition by using the camera in the device. Rather than to have several platforms, we squeezed the technology in order to have the algorithms more powerful in the smartphones. We also adapted the algorithms to be more accurate using the technology that we have today with the smartphones, for example, using the different filters that are available with the cameras on the smartphones. So we created algorithms that can be used with any camera in the smartphones today. We switched from SDK as a product, to the Selfie solution as the final product.
MIDW: FacePhi recently signed an agreement with the EC Research and Innovation program, can you tell us how this works?
FP: This is a program from the European Union called Horizon 2020 that has about 80 million euros to help companies develop their technology in the European Union. FacePhi presented a project called Faccess (from “face access”) and this project was to help bring the success that we experienced with our technology in Latin American banks to the European Union banks. The program is divided into three phases. We have already approval for phase one, and we are waiting for phase two, and phase three is when you get money from private entities. The idea is that if you have access to phase two, the European Union is able to give you finance to help you develop your project.
MIDW: Congratulations on that. What other vertical markets do you concentrate on? Do you concentrate on governments, or on law enforcement? Are these on your horizon?
FP: Our company is a small company – not a start-up but a small company – and we decided to focus on financial sector to be a FinTech company. We have some pilots to use our facial recognition technology in cars and in several access control systems and some governmental projects but 90 percent of our projects are in the financial sector so we try to focus on our strength as a FinTech. In the future we may focus a little bit more on the other projects but for today we prefer focus on the financial institutions rather than the others.
MIDW: Well, I think that is a wise decision given the speed with which that market is moving at. I know that some of your folks will be at the Money 20/20 FinTech show in Copenhagen next week. I’ll be giving the biometric talk there about payments. That is a marketplace that is moving quickly so I think your focus there is correct.
Can you tell us has this been a good year for your company?
FP: Well, 2015 was an extremely good year, as the target we had for 2014 was to be able to sign at least one bank in order to test the technology and production with end users using our technology. But in 2015 the big issue was to sign 3-8 more banks. All the banks that have put into use our technology have a very high satisfaction rate from their clients. We don’t have any complaints from any customer saying that the technology isn’t friendly, or isn’t fast, or that they prefer to use the password instead of biometrics. So 82 percent of the clients from one of the banks using the technology are more confident now using facial recognition from FacePhi than when they were using a password and username. So, 2015 was the validation of the technology and production on the street.
MIDW: I look forward to visiting FacePhi at the Money 20/20 show in Copenhagen. And thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.
FP: Thank you very much Peter.