October 09, 2018

One of the biggest challenges in fighting money laundering is satisfying the KYC, or Know Your Customer, rules. These regulatory requirements make sense in concept -- they require financial companies to verify customers’ identities before letting them connect to the system, in order to screen out high-risk people and entities and as a foundation for meeting the legal mandate to monitor financial activity for potential crime. However, the traditional verification process has always been expensive and time-consuming. In recent years it’s also been creating new problems.

My guest today has a company that is setting out to fix those. She is Laura Spiekerman, the Chief Revenue Officer of Alloy.

The new problems are two-fold. One is that millions of people lack traditional identity documents and therefore can’t gain access to the system at all. That isn’t actually a new issue -- it’s always been true -- but it’s becoming more acute because mobile technology is making it possible for more and more people to connect to the financial system through their phones, if they can identify themselves.  In much of the developing world, hundreds of millions of people cannot, because they lack formal ID documents (a factor that tends to disproportionately harm women, members of disfavored minorities and people with low incomes).

Having large swaths of the population detached from mainstream finance, in turn, undermines economic growth and opportunity. As a result, many central banks throughout the world view KYC modernization as a top priority. For example, see my episode with Sanjay Jain who was one of the leaders of the India stack on their project that is connecting everyone in India to the financial system and mainstream commerce. Some governments are trying to create customer identity through biometric identification. Global organizations ranging from The World Bank to the Gates Foundation and the Omidyar Network (where I am a Senior Advisor) have all elevated AML as a core goal in their efforts to wide financial inclusion.

The KYC barrier also impacts consumers in the United States, including many young people and immigrants or, say, people who have moved frequently. If a financial company cannot verify identity by investing a reasonable level of time and effort, it usually will not open an account.

The second problem with the current KYC process hits the US and other developed countries even more directly. We still rely on traditional identity information like name, address and Social Security number that is, quite simply, no longer secure -- it’s widely for sale on the dark web. (Re-listen to our episode with Greg Kidd of globaliD) for more insight on that).

The solution to both problems -- both access and insecurity -- is the same: more data and better technology.

Alloy is bringing these into KYC. The company enables real-time decisioning through an API that lets a financial institution access the data it needs, in a fully transparent way, and that also provides a rules engine to control how to waterfall the data to put it into a rule. I spoke to Laura at the Comply 2018 conference in New York this year -- you’ll hear some of the conference bustle in the background.

In our conversation, Laura describes the impact Alloy can make. In retail banking, they’ve been able to automate about 98% of decisions for onboarding, as opposed to a standard of about 50%. Once the remaining 2% are sent to manual review, they have also been able to reduce manual review times by about 95%, while also seeing reductions in fraud and increases in conversions, seemingly a win-win for all.

Laura also shares her advice for other fintechs, including how to overcome the many barriers faced by regtech firms in trying to work with financial institutions. She talks about Alloy’s plans for building AI into their solutions. And she offers advice to regulators. Like me, she’s hopeful that the regulatory landscape is increasingly receptive to new technology.

I know you’ll enjoy my conversation with Alloy’s Laura Spiekerman!

More for our listeners

We have great podcasts in the queue. We have a series focused on global developments in fintech and regtech. One is with Harish Natarajan of the World Bank, who talks about their remarkable work in global financial inclusion. Another is with Anju Padwardhan of CreditEase and Stanford University, who describes fintech developments in China. From London, we’ll have a talk with P.J. DiGiamarino of JWG and the Regtech Council. We’ll also have a far-ranging conversation with Peter Renton, who leads Lend Academy and the LendIt conference series. And we’ll have a show with the co-founders of Earnup…among many others.

Last week I spoke at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s NFCC Connect in Dallas, where I was very honored to receive their Making the Difference award. I’m on the NFCC board and want to share that we have a visionary new CEO, Rebecca Steele, who is bringing technology more and more into the work of credit counselors — the people on the front lines of helping consumers make their financial lives healthier. Keep your eye on the NFCC and try to connect with its work.

Other places I’ll be speaking this fall include:

Last but not least, Money 2020, is only two weeks away and it’s going to be amazing. I’m chairing and hosting the regulatory track, which is SUNDAY, October 21, starting at 10AM. The day will include amazing speakers, including a fireside chat I’m doing with Lord Digby-Jones of the House of Lords, and an Oprah-style regulator town hall. On Monday, all ten of the senior regulators and former regulators participating in the conference will join in a mix and mingle with anyone who would like to talk with them.

And then Monday afternoon at 3:15, I’ll be on the new Revolution Stage speaking on Regulation Revolution. I’m aiming to make it the most interesting speech I’ve ever given. If you’ll be at the conference, be sure to come, and tell your friends to come too.

Also, watch for upcoming information on my collaboration with Brett King on his new book, Bank 4.0, which you can now buy. I co-wrote the regulatory chapter with Brett, and we’ll have a show and events on that as well.

Last year, I ended the fall with what I called my world tour designed as seven countries in seven weeks, ending at the Dutch Central Bank right before Christmas, and I tried to share the main takeaways from each by posting mini-videos from the scene. This year I’ll be in fewer countries but at more events, so I’m going to do the videos again — a lot of people said they enjoyed coming along on those adventures. So please follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook and come to for more information.

And yes, we’re going to revive the newsletter. One of my colleagues recently suggested we call the next post Whirlwind, because that’s what the year has been.

Innovation everywhere!

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