Tech that uses personalised own-branded screens aims to boost trust of genuine calls from companies
“Public trust in phone calls has diminished,” states Smartcom CEO CJ Green.
He’s referring to how people have become far more aware of the need for security and the dangers of activities like ‘vishing’, in which a scammer uses a phone to coax someone into sharing private information.
Such scams also complicate things for genuine businesses that want to communicate important information to customers or run campaigns, especially on top of the restrictions brought in by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018.
“It is now outside of regulations for companies to call individuals from private numbers [unless they agree to receive them],” says Green. “They are simply not allowed to do that.”
But he thinks he has found the perfect solution to make users more trustworthy of genuine phone calls from businesses, through the technology offered by his company Smartcom.
The firm offers a proprietary service that allows companies to make calls via a personalised, own-branded screen to customers who opt in. The idea is that when users see this, they are more likely to pick up the phone than if they see a number they don’t recognise.
“What that means is that rather than just having a telephone number on your handset, it will show a branded image – essentially anything the company wants to show,” explains Smartcom head of delivery Brett Jacobs.
The technology can be integrated into companies’ existing apps that they offer to customers alongside other services. It does not require any additional downloads, meaning that once Smartcom APIs have been integrated into clients’ apps, their customers will receive Smartcom capabilities with the next update.
Green explains that the ID behind the technology is also encrypted and protected to give extra security to the customer – something that is key to Smartcom’s ethos.
And the signs appear promising: in research by Smartcom, connection rates were found to rise from around 20 per cent to 80 per cent after the technology was implemented at a prototype stage.
It was on a beach in sunny Florida that Green originally conceived the idea for the service. At the time, he was receiving constant calls from unknown numbers while also going through a claim with insurance company Aviva – a situation that he says would have been resolved more quickly had he known who was calling.
In August 2016, a few months after GDPR came in that April, Green started formalising a number of options to resolve the problem. He eventually homed in on the solution that Smartcom now offers.
By the summer of 2017, Green had filed all of the patents needed and was able to go ahead with developing the technology.
“I realised we had a unique angle with Smartcom that hadn’t been done before. The current methodology we aim to use is the simplest, cheapest and most commercially viable solution to the end user,” he says.
Green adds that the company frequently carries out rigorous tests and allows third parties to review the technology to ensure there are no gaps in its security.
“The companies we work with are also clinically paranoid about their security,” he says – providing extra reassurance about the safety of systems used.
Green’s company has also gained recognition through a prestigious industry award, after he was advised to apply to participate in a programme organised by the Accenture FinTech Labs. “The FinTech Innovation Lab is the best lab in Europe and one of the top five labs in the world,” he explains.
“They receive thousands of applicants every year for a three-month programme, which splits the 70 successful start-ups into three or four product categories – and to our mega-surprise, we were one of them.”
Green says that through the FinTech Innovation Lab, he was able to pitch Smartcom to some of the top CTOs and CEOs in the financial industry. These included investor Andy Honess, who is now the chairman of the company, and entrepreneur Cris Conde, who has also invested in the company.
The winner of the award is voted for by the banks and insurers that are present – and after being one of the initial 70 selected, Smartcom won the award in the retail stream category in 2018.
Green believes that this year is one of real opportunity for the company, with current investment continuing to 2021, which is set to be a year of growth.
“Like many other start-ups, Smartcom is being supported by investors who have faith and loyalty in the company’s future success,” he says.
“The plan is for Smartcom to continue to be supported by investors up until late 2021 and early 2022.”
The company expects to make a loss initially before returning a profit. Green projects financial gains after 2021 – with a concerted bid to reach £20 million in revenue within the next five years.