Finding the human side of the payments business

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The efforts to modernize payments are a monumental task, involving financial institutions, government regulations, device makers and more.

But sometimes the gravity of such important work isn’t truly understood until the human element is felt.

For Trulioo CEO Stephen Ufford, that moment came after a trip to Uganda, when he met a woman selling beautiful handmade scarves for $1.50 apiece, despite the fact that each one took a day and a half to make.

Ufford was so impressed by the scarves that he searched for similar ones after he returned home. To his surprise, he found on eBay the exact same scarves made by the same woman, but sold at a hefty premium: $39.95.

“There’s some guy in Texas that goes and buys from this little shop, buys in bulk, come and sells them, and makes 10,000 percent profit on them, if not more,” Ufford said. “And what’s the difference between her and him?”

That got Ufford thinking, what if the talented scarf maker in Uganda could sell 1,000 of them at the same $39.95 price? That kind of money could change not only her life, but that of her entire community and village. She could potentially build a well to provide her neighbors with water, or a school to educate their children.

For Ufford, therein lies the potential power of a truly modern and global mobile payment system, providing ease of access to customers even in remote corners of the world, while also providing banks with security.

“Can I solve for her? Just her? If I can do that and achieve what we’re working on,” he said, “then it could work for anyone.”

Ufford will appear at One World Identity’s K(NO)W Identity Conference, running May 15 through 17 in Washington D.C., where he will appear on a panel entitled “Facilitating E-Commerce In A World Where Everyone Is A Merchant.” The group, which includes representatives from Mastercard, WePay, Aite Group, and G2 Web Services, will tackle the challenges merchant acquirers and partners face as the payments space grows.

At Trulioo, Ufford and his team have built a global identity verification business that covers 4.5 billion people around the world. Having been involved in the identity space for some time, he said he’s excited by how much it has grown and how many participants there are.

For Ufford, the K(NO)W Identity Conference is particularly exciting, because in years past, members of the so-called “identerati” didn’t have a place to meet and discuss. With K(NO)W in May, that will change.

Trulioo and Ufford are focused on how they and others can reach the 3 billion people around the world who don’t have proper forms of identification and cannot receive banking services. The road ahead will be hard and filled with obstacles, he admitted.

“It seems like every billion we add, it gets a billion times harder.”

But through discussions, like those that will take place at the K(NO)W Identity Conference, he hopes that progress can accelerate, resolving the many challenges that remain. Among them are serving people in poor countries, how to securely verify users and merchants remotely from mobile devices, and how to verify identity when a merchant registers as a corporation rather than an individual.

Some of those problems could be solved by computer vision and technology available in modern smartphones — a subject he’s particularly excited to talk about at the K(NO)W panel on “merchant-ising.” He also cited the role of mobile carriers, who could unlock the potential of mobile payments through established relationships with wireless customers.

Ufford desribes himself as optimistic but realistic. He believes that the industry will be able to reach the next billion users in the next three years, opening up a world of possibilities for those consumers, but also unlocking revenue for service providers.

And with the identity industry growing, more conversations taking place, and the mainstream media and general public paying more attention, big changes could be just around the corner.

Don’t miss out! Sign up now for the K(NO)W Identity Conference, May 15-17 in Washington D.C. In addition to Ufford, the panel “Facilitating E-Commerce In A World Where Everyone Is A Merchant” will feature Abby-Gail Chaffatt, deputy chief compliance officer with Company WePay, Inc.; Julie Conroy, research director at Aite Group; Allison Guidette, CEO of G2 Web Services; and Anand Menon, director at Mastercard.