Q&A: Robin Tombs, CEO, Yoti
Retail Technology Innovation Hub: Tell us about yourself.
Robin Tombs: I’m CEO and co-founder of Yoti, a London-based technology company with a mission to become the world’s trusted identity platform. Prior to Yoti, I was co-founder and finance director at Gamesys, one of the world’s leading online gaming operators. I’m very proud of being part of the team which helped build Gamesys into a world class business. I’m also very excited to be working with a great team on Yoti, which I believe could make a difference to millions of people over years to come.
RTIH: What inspired you to set the company up?
RT: Myself and my co-founder Duncan Francis were at a Spartan race in California in 2014, where thousands of people were queuing up to register and prove their identity with a passport or driving licence. The process was long, inefficient and a potential security risk, with people having to leave their valuable ID documents in a tent during the race.
The current identity system is outdated and broken. It doesn’t make sense that we still have to rely on paper documents simply to prove our identity. It’s also not right that it’s too easy for people to create fake profiles online and pretend they’re someone else, or gain access to all of our personal details. This is shown by the continued rise of identity related fraud and issues that cost time, money and inconvenience to many people every day. We saw an opportunity to harness the growth and advancement in biometric technologies and increasing smartphone usage to develop a digital identity, giving people a simpler, faster and more secure way to prove who they are, online and in person.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
RT: We’ve spent the past few years speaking to businesses and regulators across a range of industries. The response has been very positive, with many businesses interested in working with us before we’d officially launched. It’s never easy challenging an established way of doing things but we believe individuals need a simpler, faster and more secure way of proving their identity.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback?
RT: One of the most significant challenges we faced early on was being able to read the NFC chips on passports from different countries. It was crucial that we were able to read passports from as many countries as possible, because we want to offer Yoti to millions of people, in many different countries. We overcame this challenge thanks to the determination from our very talented team, and we continue to test passports from more countries. This means we can become a global business, and offer people around the world the chance to get their free digital identity.
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing multi-channel retailers right now?
RT: With more of our lives spent online, customers want to be able to do things quickly and simply. Unless customers can browse, pay and checkout seamlessly, they are likely to abandon their shopping basket. Almost eight out of ten consumers in Europe abandoned their online shopping basket at least once in the last six months - with almost a third of people never returning to complete the purchase. Consumers are now faced with so much choice, often faced with numerous offers and promotions, that it’s easy for them to be swayed to shop elsewhere. Retailers need to therefore provide competitive prices and a seamless experience - both online and in-store.
One of the things which can have a negative impact on this is having to wait to for human intervention when using self-checkouts. The self-checkout, invented to speed up checkout times and reduce queues, has become one of the greatest technological innovations introduced into supermarkets. Yet there are a handful of scenarios at present where they do quite the opposite, particularly when a customer is buying age restricted items.
When it comes to checking out at the tills, we're all just impatient customers that have somewhere more important we need to be. The need to wait for retail staff to check our age and let us proceed, even if we are clearly over 18, can be a frustrating obstacle and something which stops many people from using self-checkouts. In the UK, our 2016 survey of just over 2,000 adults revealed that 32% of them avoid using self-checkouts when buying alcohol because age verification is frustrating or it takes too long. 20% of people went on to say they had to wait a minute or longer for age verification by an attendant at a self-checkout with alcohol. Modernising the self-checkout will help retailers meet customer demand for a smoother and faster checkout experience, and stay ahead in a highly competitive industry.
RTIH: What's the best question about your company or the market asked of you recently by a customer?
RT: The best thing a customer recently asked us was: “Are you kidding me? This is legit a thing? No you don’t understand. I’ve lost my ID five times in the last two years. I need this, where can I get it?” We’ve had some great feedback from customers and they’ve been really enthusiastic about the app. Many of them have told us how they often lose their ID or don’t like taking it out with them so it’s great that we can offer them a safer and simpler way of proving their identity - and hear from them about where they’d like to use it.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from your company over the next 12 months?
RT: We’ve had strong interest from many businesses across a number of sectors including nightclubs, retailers, classified websites, gaming operators and recruitment companies, to name a few. Over the next 12 months we’ll see Yoti being used throughout the UK as proof of ID in nightclubs and bars, and as proof of age at self-checkout machines. Businesses from a variety of sectors will also be accepting it as a secure form of ID to verify the identity of their customers.
There will also be a significant increase in the number of people installing the app, targeting over one million people in the UK alone in the next 12 months. Individuals will be able to create their Yoti with Aadhaar and other ID documents from many different countries. So over the next year we’ll be launching in India, the US and other international markets. It’s an exciting time for us.