By Peace Hyde
Ivorian entrepreneur Charlette N’Guessan is on a mission to solve a $400 million problem faced by Ghanaian financial institutions.
The BACE Group, co-founded by Charlette N’Guessan, is on a mission to solve a $400 million problem faced by Ghanaian financial institutions to identify customers. Their solution – the BACE API, a software that uses facial recognition to help banks streamline their Know Your Customer (KYC) process.
N’Guessan, who is also CEO of the Ghana-based software company, stumbled upon the idea when she relocated from her native Ivory Coast to Ghana to take part in the one-year MEST entrepreneur training program. MEST, which is an Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, was founded in Ghana in 2008 and provides funding as well as skills training to Africa’s brightest software developers.
“We started talking to banks and fintech companies in Ghana and we noticed that they were spending a lot of money in terms of KYC and also things related to security.”
“When I first moved to Ghana, I could not speak English, so it was very difficult to communicate. But we had the ecosystem where we could learn English through MEST. That’s how I met my co-founder and we had a similar interest in terms of solving key challenges in Africa. We started to study the local market and what challenges they were facing and we started talking to banks and fintech companies in Ghana and we noticed that they were spending a lot of money in terms of KYC and also things related to security,” says N’Guessan.
With a strong background in electronic and computer science as well as software engineering, the 26-year-old set out to initially create an app before pivoting and launching an Application Program Interface (API) instead that could be integrated into any existing bank app or solution.
“Outside Africa a lot of people are trying to use facial recognition and there was some confusion about how it can work properly in Africa. But we are young and we want to do something challenging. We decided to use facial recognition instead of finger print because, for us, facial recognition was a lot simpler because it doesn’t require a lot of devices. If you go to your bank, you go to an agent and she will check your identity by looking at your face and your ID and know that it is you. She won’t check your fingerprints first. So, we wanted to bring this natural process into tech digitization and facial recognition was the technology that would be able to make this happen for us,” says N’Guessan.
The BACE API has been specifically developed for Africans by using nothing more than a device’s inbuilt camera and utilizes live images and short videos on those devices. The company has also teamed up with certified government-issued Identity documents that has granted the company access to Ghanaian passports to further expand its reach.
N’Guessan’s innovation is currently being utilized by two financial institutions in Ghana and has made her the first woman ever to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious 2020 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
“From 15 teams we were shortlisted to four teams who pitched to the jury and based on our track record, we won. We received £25,000 ($34,000) which we are investing into developing the product even further. It is good because the product is relevant for Covid-19 where a lot of people are no longer meeting physically.”
N’Guessan and the BACE Group are now targeting all African companies and different sectors where, she is hoping the technology will be used for remote onboarding of drivers in companies like UBER to telecom companies’ enrolment of simcards.