AI comes to the rescue in corona era
The need was great when the pandemic caused a surge in unemployment figures. The robo-ident procedure, developed by the Hamburg-based start-up NECT, arrived just in time to help the employment agency cope with the sudden upsurge. Users could prove their identity in minutes thanks to the artificial intelligence-based technology. “In April 2020, the newly unemployed emerging from regular employment increased by more than 50 per cent over the same month of the previous year, and in May by another 26 per cent or so," according to the Institute of the German Economy (Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft).
Benny Bennet Jürgens, CEO of NECT, pointed out: “The agency would have had to train about 3,000 employees in remote identification methods to validate the huge volume of unemployed. Given the level of security required at short notice, such a daunting task would have been sheer impossible for human beings to pull off in a timely manner. Our tried and tested software for automating this process could be used immediately hundreds of thousands of times over.”
At this point, the robo-ident procedure, developed by Jürgens and his joint founder, Carlo Ulbrich, came into play via a tender. Customers used the software to identify themselves in minutes and the whole process was sped up thanks to NECT’s artificial intelligence-based technology.
Lengthy, frustrating registration procedures
The fully-automated online identification had earlier proven its worth in the insurance sector. Founded in 2017, the start-up counts R+V, Nürnberger and HUK-Coburg insurers among its clients. "The idea for our start-up came about in 2015 while pushing a stroller and we mulled getting something off the ground together. Carlo has a penchant for sales while I am keen on developing IT and have ten years of experience in the insurance sector," said Jürgens. A billing app developed for health insurance policyholders saw too many users abandon the lengthy registration process in frustration. This prompted the founders to come up with an alternative, rapid and secure AI application.
Has pandemic whetted appetite for technological change?
Technological change came to the rescue when issuing Hamburg’s Corona Emergency Aid. An attempt at fraud forced the Hamburg Investment and Development Bank (IFB Hamburg) to suspend the issuance of funds leaving solo self-employed and small entrepreneurs without any means of even applying for aid. A manual check would have been extremely time-consuming and personnel-intense prompting IFB Hamburg to commission NECT. "Our AI solution can check hundreds of thousands of applications per month and at a consistent quality." The quick solution sparked great, all-round relief in Hamburg. "We received flowers out of sheer gratitude and are really proud to have been able to help at the time," said Jürgens, who now hopes that the perceived positive use of AI will help allay fears surrounding technological change.
Hamburg – a magnet for founders
NECT’s AI product has put the company on the road to success and saw it scoop the 2020 Hamburg Founder's Prize and a nomination for this year’s German Founders' Prize. The start-up is now adding hundreds of thousands of new users every month and facilitating access for over 60 million end customers in Germany. Hamburg is a great location for NECT, the duo noted. "It's a great city and enables new ideas to get off the ground with funding for start-ups and a variety of real labs. The high standard of living here eases employee acquisition," Jürgens stressed. NECT has grown to a good 80 employees, 15 of whom relocated to Hamburg from abroad.
So, what’s next for the company? "We are currently pursuing two main goals - internationalization and adding an electronic signature to our robo-ident procedure for contracts e.g., leases, credit agreements or employment contracts," said Jürgens. The start-up has its also set its sights set on new markets in southern Europe including Spain and Italy. "The banking and insurance landscape there is similar to that in Germany and the comparably high demand for digital solutions offers us opportunities for growth there."
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