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Banking & Finance

Hong Kong start-up Neat uses selfies to verify payment account users’ identities

Users able to top up app wallet from traditional bank accounts or by ‘pulling’ in cash from app

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 5:25pm

Taking a selfie might be considered an odd way to open a payment account, but it is a perfect fit for Hong Kong start-up Neat as it targets millennials who would rather pay through their smartphones than take out credit cards.

Neat founder David Rosa said the app and accompanying payment card would use facial recognition technology to verify the person on the Hong Kong identification card was the same person opening the account.

“This is a mobile bank account, you do everything through the smartphone, so this is how we can compete in a market that is prohibitive, as we are 16 times cheaper than a bank in terms of running costs,” the former banker said.

We are 16 times cheaper than a bank in terms of running costs
David Rosa, Neat

Neat is designed for students and young professionals who want the convenience of a debit card to shop online and in stores as well as allowing them to track their spending habits.

Users could top up their app wallet either from their traditional bank accounts or by “pulling” in cash from the app, Rosa said, adding that Neat would be compatible with Apple Pay and Android Pay.

Rosa said Hong Kong users were more comfortable with paying by card compared to their mainland Chinese counterparts, who had embraced transactions through QR codes in recent years.

Third-party mobile payments in mainland China were valued at 16.36 trillion yuan (HK$19.54 trillion) last year, research firm Analysys reported, with Alibaba’s Alipay taking 71.5 per cent of the market in the third quarter.

Mobile payment is growing worldwide and is predicted to hit US$620 billion this year, up from US$450 billion last year, according to researcher TrendForce.

Rosa, an Italian, said when he moved to Hong Kong 15 years ago, the Octopus stored-value card was seen as technologically advanced, but payment options in the city now lagged those elsewhere.

“Hong Kong has fallen behind dramatically and that is an opportunity as the timing is very ripe for this type of solution” Rosa said. “Contactless payments are the fastest growing means of payment in the world.”

Neat is a combination of Rosa’s previous artificial intelligence start-up Variably and the technology behind payments start-up TofuPay, which it bought.

The start-up’s monetisation model combines taking a cut of the fee charged by merchants to process the transaction as well collecting and analysing data for brands.

Neat would class the anonymised data into behavioural clusters to give brands an insight into consumer patterns, including spending at rival stores, Rosa said. In return, users would be given targeted discounts.

Security features for the card include the ability to “switch off” the card if it has been misplaced before reporting it lost or to turn the online shopping ability on or off at will.

Neat plans to launch to beta users in the second quarter of this year.