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How pawaPass is Transforming User Verification in Africa: An Interview with Sylvia Brune

Sylvia Brune pawapass

The digital identity and verification landscape is changing and pawaPass stands out as a key player pushing innovation. I had the opportunity to talk to Sylvia Brune, CEO of pawaPass, to discuss the company’s start, challenges they address and future plans.
pawaPass helps businesses understand their options for verifying new users and reducing fraud, especially in cases where traditional IDs are not available.

History of pawaPass

The idea for pawaPass came about from a need identified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, the team aimed to launch a financial service in the UK for the African diaspora, facilitating the gifting of credit or debit cards to family members in Africa. “Because many family members in Africa didn’t have IDs, we built a system where the primary account holder in the UK was thoroughly KYC’d, but activation in Africa only required a face scan,” Sylvia explains. Although the first product faced some challenges, they pivoted to an application in user verification across Africa.

What pawaPass Does

pawaPass provides alternative data points for user verification, addressing challenges where traditional ID methods fall short. “We work with businesses to ensure that their users are real and unique, protecting them from fraud,” Sylvia notes. This makes it easier to have unique solutions for different industries.

When asked how pawaPass is different from existing methods, Sylvia highlights the tailored solutions they offer. “We don’t just give someone an API and leave them to figure it out. We tailor our products to specific use cases,” she adds. This has led to successful implementations like the one with Mchezo in Rwanda, where facial biometrics are used to verify professional athletes for direct payments and to onboard micro-shareholders without requiring an ID.

Key Challenges

Biometric verification has its challenges. Sylvia acknowledges that low-end smartphones struggle with the space required for the face scan SDK. “We encourage users to borrow a friend’s smartphone with more space if theirs can’t handle the scan,” she says. User education is also important to overcome the initial resistance and confusion about the process.

pawaPass operates in Uganda, Zambia, Benin, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. The choice of countries is driven by the presence of projects and partners, not regulatory constraints. The company’s main entity in Africa is based in Rwanda, where it has necessary licenses and certifications.

Data Privacy and Security

Despite varying data privacy laws across Africa, pawaPass uses standards for data protection. “We start from the perspective of the highest level of security possible,” Sylvia asserts. The underlying software they use has a $600,000 bounty for any successful breach. The money has never been claimed and this indicates how good it is.

Balancing compliance with a smooth user experience is important. Sylvia believes in logical, risk-based decisions. “If there’s no real risk on the other side, we don’t force unnecessary steps on the user,” she explains. It is important to make the process intuitive without compromising on security.

pawaPass has high security and encryption standards. “The face scan is translated into a face map, and the original capture is deleted immediately,” Sylvia explains. This means even internal staff cannot misuse the data.

Regulatory Landscape

Sylvia predicts that many African governments will implement digital identity frameworks in the next decade. “Hopefully, these frameworks will be foundational, ensuring uniqueness and facilitating easier user verification,” she says. However, reaching critical mass might take longer, underscoring the importance of innovative solutions like facial biometrics.

Onboarding and Support

When onboarding new clients, pawaPass works with them to understand their specific needs and integrate their solutions into existing workflows. This approach ensures a smooth transition and better use of the technology. Future Plans

Using biometric verification in different African markets has its own challenges ranging from technological limitations to user education. Sylvia is optimistic about the future, “We plan to expand our footprint and explore new partnerships,” she concluded.

About author

Editor at TechArena. I cover all things technology and review new gadgets as I get them. You can reach me on email: kaluka@techarena.co.ke
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