Non-standardised addresses is a problem for Nigerian firms: This company pioneered a solution
By combining an Uber-like network of verification agents with technology, Nigeria’s VerifyMe makes it easy and cost-effective for companies to authenticate their customers’ addresses.
In most developed countries, there is a standardised way of writing addresses. The first line typically features the building number followed by the street name, while the second line comprises the city, state and ZIP code. However, in Nigeria, such addressing standards are often not followed. This creates a problem for Nigerian companies – from banks to e-commerce platforms – that need to know the addresses of their customers. For instance, banks cannot open accounts for customers that supply vague or incomplete addresses, resulting in a loss of revenue.
“Because there is no framework for how to write addresses in Nigeria, an address could start with ‘Chi’s house’ or ‘Number 9’ or ‘Road 2’. There is no way to constrain the collection of the information, which means a lot of junk data is pushed into the pipeline of companies,” says Esigie Aguele, co-founder and CEO at VerifyMe Nigeria, a digital identity and verification services company. He adds that illiteracy compounds the challenge.
In 2020, VerifyMe launched a service called VeriFind that uses a combination of technology and on-the-ground agents to authenticate customers’ addresses.
VeriFind utilises a 4D geographic information system (GIS) solution to verify the addresses of its clients’ customers. For instance, when someone applies for a loan from one of Nigeria’s new digital lenders, they enter their address as part of the application and are sent a link to their smartphone. When they are at their stated address, they follow the link and log their location via GPS. The system then attempts to match the GPS location with the address provided by the customer. In addition, the technology can temporarily monitor if a person is sleeping at a location they have given as their address.
The VeriFind platform also has a network of over 25,000 agents throughout Nigeria who can visit properties to authenticate addresses within 24 hours. The Central Bank of Nigeria’s Tier III anti-money laundering regulations require deposit-taking institutions to physically verify a new customer’s address. Similar to the Uber model, these agents work on a part-time basis and are paid for each address they validate. Agents are alerted via an app when they are in the vicinity of an address that needs to be verified and they can choose to accept or decline the request.
For security purposes, agents are only given essential information for the execution of verification assignments. The technology tracks the movement of agents to ensure requests are carried out at the right time and in the right place.
“Before VeriFind, banks often had to send their own operational staff to confirm addresses, which meant they were not doing work in the office. There were a handful of third-party companies doing address verification, but it wasn’t digitised and the information wasn’t shareable. We changed the game in terms of speed, efficiency and convenience, allowing our customers to focus on their core business,” explains Aguele.
Reducing the cost of address verification
VerifyMe started as an identity verification company in 2013 and has since added a range of services to its offering. While it was the first to introduce digital address verification in Nigeria, some competitors have entered the industry. However, according to Aguele, what sets the VeriFind offering apart is that clients can choose between the Tier III and 4D GIS solutions, depending on their needs. Through an API, companies can seamlessly plug the VeriFind service into their own workflows.
Aguele adds that some of VeriFind’s competitors are also not licensed by the relevant agencies to conduct address authentication operations in Nigeria. “These unlicensed companies could in the future face compliance issues in relation to keeping information and national security data.”
Most of Nigeria’s biggest banks and insurance firms – including United Bank for Africa, Sterling, Allianz and Leadway Assurance – use the VeriFind solution. In addition, the platform has numerous clients in industries such as fintech, microlending, e-commerce and real estate.
Because of its scale and technology, the company has been able to reduce the cost of address verification by over 300%. “Deposit-taking institutions that have a Tier III compliance requirement had a heavy logistics issue in terms of how to fulfill these address validations at scale. We were able to solve that problem for them and greatly reduce the cost,” Aguele says. In 2021, VeriFind processed over 200,000 Tier III address confirmations and over 600,000 4D GIS checks using customers’ smartphones.