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September 9, 2010

Q&A with Nick Ogden, CEO and founder of Voice Commerce

CBR talks to Nick Ogden about what role voice technology can play in mobile banking

By Vinod

Can we start with some of your background, as I think that’d be of interest to people?
Sure. I founded Worldpay, the world’s first global eCommerce payment system that guarantees internet transactions worldwide and I also helped create the Verified By Visa product and supported its rollout. My career has all been about core systems and security and moving them to becoming global standards.

Nick Ogden, CEO and founder of Voice Commerce

So you’re a technologist, primarily?
I’m a technology marketer, I’d say. I’m passionate about technology but come from the position that computers can do what you want them to do – so best if you get them to do something useful. I’ve been involved in tech companies since 1985, worked for myself since then, had a fascination for the ways databases work, got involved in establishing Europe’s first online shop, the wine warehouse in Jersey and that’s when things really started taking off. I showed that shop to Barclays, the guy bought a bottle of wine online – and we set up Barclay Square [the bank’s online commerce site] off the back of that.

What is your new operation, Voice Commerce all about, then?
We’re looking at how financial transactions will change given the prospect that mobile devices are method of choice for comms and data services for an increasing part of the world’s population. While the Internet has grown rapidly, smartphone developments have been equally rapid – but the thing that is central is that that mobile telephony jumps over the challenges associated with landline and just create a new market. The smart phone market is already three times as big as the commercial PC internet base. With mobile commerce you need requires, ability to pay money transfer, identify, confirm transaction on non-repudiated basis, so if someone pays, it’s pretty much guaranteed, on a pretty substantial basis. Once you have that – it will explode.

Not sure where you’re going with this.
The point I am making is that mobile will be substantially larger than the base for hardware-based Internet services. So in 2005 I started looking at voice biometrics to see if we could integrate that with payment so businesses worldwide could ID their customers and if required process that payment, or process a payment where the ID is done so reducing fraud and increasing security around transactions.

This is a long-winded way, then, of saying you do voice identification for mobile-based commerce. That’s been talked a lot about but there’s precious little real activity, surely?
I’d argue that we are actually doing pretty well as a company. We’ve built out a 51-country network with inbound capability, we are full members of Visa and Mastercard, so we’re already a bank in everything but name…

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[CBR interrupts]. I need to understand how you can be relevant to the CIOs reading this piece.
OK. We go to market by partnering with banks to partner with them to help accelerate the mobile tech we’ve developed to their customer bases. With mobile operators, we partner to deliver services direct to consumers. And we work with any CIO of a large organisation looking to reduce financial risks they are exposed to of not being able to ID the customer or verify and authenticate customers. Enterprises can plug into our network with an API to help identify, authorise and receive payment from customers – de-risking the business process and passing back a lot of the responsibility to the customer around fraud in the context of ecommerce, as they’re authenticating themselves with the voice biometrics technology we use.

Give us some potential apps here, then.
You’re a mid-range retailer, you have online ecommerce store, everyone who comes into that store has a phone, you know their numbers from their eCommerce activities and you would like to offer a mobile-based catalogue, we can help you do that. Manufacturing, you have network of employees worldwide travelling, incurring costs with credit cards, but big problems reconciling what’s paid out; by limiting those cards so employees have to ‘sign’ by biometric voice reduces unnecessary expenditure and provides direct reconciliation. Both these systems can be accessed today through our API.

Hmm. I am not really hearing specific client names yet. Why?
We are very, very close – there are announcements coming down the line in relation to the rollout of the systems, we’re talking to a dozen mobile operators on exclusive basis, we’re confident they will happen. It has to. The overall market is huge – there are 4.7 billion phones in the market. Voice-driven mobile commerce will be as much a part of daily life for us all in the next three to four years.

I am pretty sure I heard that prediction in 2000 or so.
I liken it to 1995, when we said, this is what the Internet is all abut and people said, well, I just bought a fax machine, I don’t need an email address. If you remember the Phillips CD-ROM took about 12 years to get established. Even the best technology can it can take time to hit its mark – just creating great tech doesn’t mean you’ll get a market for it. But this is safer as well than what we have now. Vodafone found it takes 34 minutes for someone to realise they’ve lost their mobile phone, but it can take 3 days for someone to realise their financial services have been compromised. By tying the two systems together, you immediately have greater security and reduced hassle for the end user.

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