In Profile at The Fintech Times
AI Cybersecurity Editor's Choice Europe

In Profile: Russ Cohn at OCR Labs Global

OCR Labs Global helps businesses quickly and securely verify their customer’s identity with just a government recognised ID and a smartphone – from anywhere in the world.

The company’s mission is to be the leading global technology provider of digital identity verification and already supports clients across many industries, including governments, fintech, crypto and a variety of platform-based businesses, such as software as a service (SaaS) providers. 

Russ Cohn, general manager international for OCR Labs Global, is a commercially focused business builder who advises founders and their management on their growth and operational strategies. He joined OCR Labs in February 2020 and has played a key part in establishing the company headquarters in the UK and its wider international expansion.

Cohn was previously a key early member of the Google UK leadership team growing the team from 25 to 3,000 people and the revenue from £10million to £1billion during his tenure.

With a passion for marketing development and startup growth, Cohn strongly believes that an AI-first mindset will enable the fintech industry to drive even greater outperformance. 

Russ Cohn, General Manager International for OCR Labs Global
Russ Cohn, general manager international, OCR Labs Global
Tell us more about your company and its purpose

The need for digital verification technology is growing exponentially. Frustrated by solutions that failed to live up to their promises, OCR Labs Global set out to develop a fully automated identity verification solution ourselves, from scratch.

OCR Labs Global is focused on making identity verification effortless through technology. We build intelligent tools that protect users from identity fraud while enabling a seamless identity experience.

We’re focused on removing the burden of identity verification, regulations such as know your customer and anti-money laundering (KYC and AML) and user experience for our customers so they can focus on scaling their business without the compliance and operational overhead.

We can extract information from and verify the legitimacy of any identity document in the world. That information can then be checked against local government and credit bureau databases in real time. Once this has taken place, we then verify that the person presenting the document is alive and well and owns the document being presented.

This is a fully automated process, a step change from the industry standard of using agents/call centres as the processing mechanism. The reliance on agents became a highlighted weak point for businesses during the pandemic when employees were homebound and could not process transactions during the largest consumer move to online services in history.

What are some of your recent achievements you’d like to highlight?

OCR Labs Global is ranked number one globally for detecting real and fraudulent individuals. We verify 16,000+ documents in more than 230 countries and principalities with 142 languages/typesets – more than any other identity verification provider. We can now accept almost any ID international document with our fully automated technologies experiencing record success rates.

At the beginning of the year, we successfully secured a $30million Series B funding from Equable Capital, to expand to North America, and continue growth in EMEA and APAC with a direct sales force, and hiring a global chief revenue officer. We strive to be the leading technology provider of digital identity verification, globally. The market opportunity continues to grow, and with our expansion in the US, and investment in our global sales effort, we’re in a phenomenal position to grow our customer base.

How did you get into the fintech industry?

I’ve spent the best part of two decades advising founders on their management on their growth and operational strategies, having worked with companies in the SaaS, advertising, e-commerce and data-driven technology solutions space.

I have joined Halkin Ventures as an angel investor in 2019 to help the founders of our portfolio companies of all sizes with their marketing, commercial and international growth strategies.

While investing into OCR Labs Global through Halkin Ventures, I was asked to support their marketing efforts in early 2020. Working with them through the pandemic, I gradually took on more responsibilities and became general manager, which allowed me to get more comfortable with the challenges and opportunities of the fintech industry.

What’s the best thing about working in the fintech industry?

Innovation in financial services is driven by fintech, especially in the UK. As the market moves fast, this industry understands that information exchange management is the most valuable commodity.

No matter how big or small the company, I strongly believe that an AI-first mindset will enable the fintech industry to drive even greater outperformance. We have adopted machine learning at scale at OCR Labs Global, and we see it as a way to facilitate seamless customer experiences beyond their traditional scope. All while our automated system prevents fraud when advanced machine learning is used without human intervention.

“The bar for identity verification gets higher every day. As remote becomes the new normal, businesses must tackle more sophisticated attacks, and meet even higher regulatory standards”

What frustrates you most about the fintech industry?

While fintech has its many advantages, we still see the large institutions driving change operating at a very slow pace. The contrast is evident and it’s due mostly to the amount of regulation that needs to be implemented around every major decision.

Large institutions have been slow to respond to fintech’s fast pace despite their wealth, talent, and resources. There is also a tendency for fintech to exacerbate compliance gaps between developed and developing companies, and mitigating this risk is a constant challenge.

How have your previous roles influenced your career?

I have been fortunate to work in different industries and in a variety of technology businesses. Each has helped me learn about what good and bad looks like and allowed me to help startups and scale-ups benefit from this experience.

My strong technology knowledge coupled with deep experience of advertising and marketing technology driven revenue models helped me build great partnerships with the enterprise c-suite and maintain relationships with key internal stakeholders while helping grow these businesses sustainably.

What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

Pocket dialling my future wife 23 years ago after being given her number to set up a dinner out. She invited me over for a coffee and I’ve never left!

Work-wise, when I immigrated to the UK, I set up a business with another company focusing on promotional marketing like I had done in South Africa. They got cold feet and pulled out and I was left unemployed for six months. I then landed my first job in the search engine industry which led me to spend 15 years in it with 10 amazing years at Google. I could still be selling branded pens and watches!

What has the future got in store for your company?

The bar for identity verification gets higher every day. As remote becomes the new normal, businesses must tackle more sophisticated attacks, and meet even higher regulatory standards.

We are excited about how our proprietary automated identity verification (IDV) platform can make sharing one’s identity more secure while lowering fraud for businesses of all sizes.

We know that no-one wants to spend hours trying to prove who they are, whether it’s for a job or for a bank account, and we want our customers to feel protected against identity theft and fraud no matter where they are in the world.

Our four proprietary technologies are bundled in one solution to support this – identity document optical character recognition (OCR), document fraud assessment, liveness detection, and face matching.

OCR Labs Global is built to enable anyone to access online services, anywhere, anytime.

What are the next key talking points or challenges for your industry as a whole?

OCR Labs LogoWe know that the global identification verification market is expected to grow to $53billion by 2026, representing a doubling of growth by 2026 over 2021. Customers have been able to enjoy these benefits because of the digitisation of services provided by businesses worldwide.

We believe self-sovereign identity is the next natural step in identity verification services, because it is reusable and user-controlled. A self-sovereign identity system must be supported by interoperable systems to share identity attributes, which could be blockchain-based to maintain data integrity.

In addition, we would like to see more government-driven digital identity options offered and mandated worldwide.

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