Thinking outside the box is an ability that doesn't come easy to most people, and yet all people can reap the benefits of someone's ability to do so.
Richard Shearer is the Chief Executive Officer of RegTech trailblazer, Tintra PLC a company listed in the exchanges of London and New York. Tintra is an artificial intelligence led bank removing the barriers of moving money between developed and emerging markets
London, May 2022, and I'm meeting Richard at Tintra's headquarters in London,. Our conversation begins with a curious and inevitable question: what sparks an ambitious endeavor such as building something on technology that's still evolving. "Financial inclusivity" is the answer and remains the answer throughout our fascinating day-long conversation.
What does financial inclusivity even mean? The ability to access funds regardless of your place of residence. Richard's ambition in achieving this, is as noble as it is complex. A person's place of residence from a due diligence perspective in the context of bank account opening, can immediately classify them as "low", "medium" or "high" risk. Inevitably though, the law's meticulous "comb" catches persons who may run entirely legitimate business transactions and precludes them from opening and operating a traditional bank account, from receiving funds or trading on the latest available fintech and digital platforms. Financial inclusivity and Richard's ambition for Tintra is to "build technology that allows us to build a regulatory framework that's ad hominem -directed at you as an individual with the rights that you deserve rather than lazy categorising by nationality, social background or even more uncomfortable signifiers."
Tintra has long been making waves in the RegTech industry developing and applying technology operating as a regulated electronic money institution, across the world. It was partly this and partly Richard's longstanding experience leading Tintra's family office that demonstrated the power of financial exclusivity.
Soon into our conversation, Richard's multi-cultural upbringing takes center stage, and then his resolve to invest in "financial inclusivity" becomes clearer. Born and raised in Hong Kong by English parents, Richard was exposed to and gradually grew up reconciling two very different worlds. The East and the West. Who then, could better understand the need to have financial inclusivity, than someone who's grown up facing cultural differences; circumstances that probably equipped him with a unique skillset of understanding a dissimilar person's point of view.
When we discuss the topic of KYC procedures for a bank account opening, the conversation flourishes into an ambition of seeing the world in 80-days just like Jules Verne imagined it. At Tintra's headquarters in London there's a world map with all the locations where Tintra offices exist or are in the process of being opened.
"Did you know, that in a place like Nigeria the highest proof of identity isn't the passport copy as you'd expect in the UK, but a document akin to a labour card. Everyone has a labour card but not everyone has a passport. How could then a resident of Nigeria be able to open a basic bank account, if his proof of identity cannot be recognized so it is not accepted?" Richard asks.
It is reported that a cyber verification of identity would enable heavily unbanked nations such as African nations join the global economy by more than 60% of their total population. So how do you build software that can identify and distinguish between rogue applicants? Tintra's answer lies in artificial intelligence and more specifically in adaptable algorithms that remove human bias, according to Tintra's lead software engineer. It also, all depends on the data the algorithm is provided with.
"What does the world's first Web 3.0 banking platform, look like?" I ask. Web 3.0 is built on distributed ledger technology (blockchain) with content created by the user. How then, as a Fintech institution or banking platform do you monitor the user's information? In a steadfast answer, Richard says "the answer is always-on-KYC".
"Always-on-KYC" is extremely difficult to be achieved, and it's probably the reason Tintra invests and collects several patents that secure its ability to build the software that will provide this as well as financial inclusivity -meaning a way to distinguish between rogue and eligible user's applying as close to objective standards as possible. Even if that means, moving away from the traditional Western-biases inherent as much in ourselves as they are in the law we apply when we collect and evaluate know-your-client information. "The thing that gets missed with blockchain is that if used correctly it has the potential to be a much more reliable form of KYC than asking a prospective client for information and having to trust in many cases that they are being honest. This form of compliance allows us to look backwards into a customer's history for trend lines that can assist the onboarding process. That is only part of the solution though, it only reaches its full potential if post-onboarding there is a move to always-on KYC," he continues.
What about GDPR, AML and anti-bribery laws? How will the software secure their application so that account opening and payments remain legally compliant? The answer once more lies on "always-on KYC". Thinking back to some of the latest high profile financial scandals, like the Archegos Capital scandal which cost Credit Suisse over USD 5,5 billion, it seems Richard's answer is one all financial institutions should be striving for. Thinking about this recent scandal, or a very current situation where persons are restricted from having access to their bank accounts due to a geopolitical situation they have no control over, it's clear that Richard's tapped into a serious problem. And the solution he is currently working on, valued possibly in the billions of US dollars, is urgently required.
In September 2022, the Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus, announced the issue of a tender for a digital on-boarding solution for bank clients, as an initiative to speed-up banking operations. In hindsight, our conversation with Richard and his "always-on KYC" back in May, appears to be at the heart of a wider, conversation between all key stakeholders.
As we reach the end of our conversation, I think of the regulatory landscape lying ahead as Tintra strives to operate as a digital bank on Web 3.0. But how does one apply or obtain a license to operate on Web 3.0? "It is a decentralized environment" Richard says, and we both agree that it's time for new laws to be passed which address companies' abilities to transact almost exclusively online, using nothing but digital currencies, and having contracts' performance depend almost exclusively on code.
"How do you see yourself as CEO of a company that's building pioneering technology?" Richard's mindset is down-to-earth, simply focused on solving a problem. On making financial transactions frictionless and more accessible, ultimately more inclusive. It then occurs to me that without him realizing, he's also working on bringing meaning back to "being in business".
Tintra PLC is a public company listed on the London and New York stock exchanges. It is building a global, borderless banking infrastructure to democratise payments for emerging markets, with a current valuation in the private market at least at $100 million.
Richard Shearer spearheads the company's initiative of becoming the world's first digital bank on Web 3.0.
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