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Wee Digital growing face recognition

Released at: 16:24, 14/07/2019

Wee Digital growing face recognition

Photo: Viet Tuan

Startup developing face recognition technology for a host of different fields.

by Ngoc Lan

In 2016, when the concept of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) was still unfamiliar in Vietnam, startup Wee Digital began to focus on and provide businesses with face recognition technology based on AI, with banking and finance the first sector.

The startup has partnered with banks such as AB Bank and VietinBank, offering its innovative technology to connect them more closely with customers and provide the best possible banking experience. Customers don’t need to remember any passwords when accessing banking services, with the new technology offering a faster and safer process. 

Mr. Christian Nguyen, Founder of Wee Digital, told VET that the idea is based on the fact that each person has different biometric characteristics that simply can’t be forged. “Banks therefore need less time to complete customer interactions and can improve the management of records and customer information, while customers don’t have to worry about security tools like passwords or PIN codes being overridden,” he added. 

Conducting interbank money transfers on mobile phones or website requires a number of steps. As Vietnam continues to promote a cashless society, online transactions must be made easier and face recognition technology can solve this problem. The Prime Minister issued Decree No. 101 in 2012 on Vietnam becoming a cashless society, but figures from the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) last year reveal that up to 90 per cent of daily spending is done by cash and 99 per cent of shoppers use cash when buying items costing less than VND100,000 ($4.2). “This represents an opportunity for Wee Digital,” Mr. Nguyen added.

The startup also won the first prize of $25,000 in the Vietnam Fintech Challenge 2018, organized by the SBV, the Australian Government, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). 

After three years in the market, Wee Digital has begun to develop face recognition technology in other fields, for example by becoming a partner of Vingroup’s Vinpearl Nha Trang, which became the first resort, hotel or entertainment space in Vietnam to apply face recognition technology, in mid-April. The technology is applied to open doors automatically, check-in within just three seconds, and pay for services, all with a simple smile via face recognition technology.

Ms. Duong Thuy Trang, a 29-year-old office worker, and a friend decided to head to Vinpearl Nha Trang for their summer vacation. “Checking in just involves standing in front of a camera,” she said. “We also don’t need to carry a card whenever we go out, at the technology also allows up to open the door of our room.”

In the first phase, face recognition is being introduced at Vinpearl Nha Trang for check-in and check-out and access to the hotel area, the Vinpearl Land entertainment area, and its restaurants. Wee Digital is also introducing the technology in Vinpearl Hoi An and Vinpearl Phu Quoc next month and then taking it to the 44 hotels and resorts of the Vinpearl brand nationwide.

Mr. Nguyen noted that personalizing the experience for users is a focus of digital transformation, in which face recognition is the fastest, most convenient and safest way to do so. “When mastering a technology, you can apply it to many sectors such as hotels, real estate, finance and banking, education, hospitals, airlines, and manufacturing,” he added. 

Big ambition

He is also dreaming of a much bigger playground to come: the cashless payment market. The market in Vietnam now includes financial companies (banks and card issuers), super app unicorns found throughout Southeast Asia (like Grab and Go-Jek), and domestic network operators. He therefore chose to join the market and offer tools to support this new trend, especially as banking profits are shifting from traditional interest revenue to retail services and they need technology startups to help with this new approach. 

By connecting with banks, Mr. Nguyen aspires to replace debit and credit cards with payments made using face recognition technology. This will lead to a dramatic change in the small payment behavior of Vietnamese, taking Vietnam towards a cashless society where face recognition is a tool to authenticate payment transactions.

AB Bank was Wee Digital’s first partner, with a representative from the bank saying they are excited by the new technology. It hopes that using face recognition technology will help it bolster customer numbers over the next year by the same level recorded in the last ten years, putting them among the leading retail banks in the country.

One difficulty, though, is that trust in digital services among the population remains low. “Money is tangible, so we and the business community as a whole need to build trust in digital,” Mr. Nguyen said. 

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