Ex-Countrywide Managing Director Taking Seat At Tech’s Top Table

There are some who believe the property industry is having an identity crisis. But not the kind you’re probably imagining.

Instead, it’s because everyone is increasingly being asked to know who their customers are whether it’s renters, landlords, buyers or vendors, a trend created by the ever-thickening red roll of regulatory tape.

This includes new laws and initiatives covering money laundering, right to rent checks, landlord licensing, mortgage fraud and the digital needs of blockchain.

London-based tech start-up Yoti hopes to offer a solution. Last year it raised £8 million, part of a total £60 million raised. In the past has claimed to have 4,000 people installing its smartphone app every day and 3.5 million installs so far.

This is its elevator pitch – renters are offered a way to put all their identity documents such as their passport and driving licence into one encrypted app and businesses are then offered a way to quickly check someone’s identity.

“Airbnb has renters and owners, Uber has drivers and passengers, and Yoti has businesses and ID users,” says its Commercial Director Simon Charnock.

Yoti has plenty of applications outside property, too. These include age verification for online retailers, government services, banking, digital know-your-customer checks and even enabling people to travel through airports more quickly and easily from check-in to boarding; or ‘seamless travel’ as Charnock puts it.

And its appeal to consumers is that they can control their online ID by choosing who sees their identity. But recently the company behind the app has got more serious about property, which it sees as a potentially huge market for its service.

At a glance – Simon Charnock

  • Charnock has worked in property and commercial finance including a seven-year stint at Countrywide.
  • The 30-year-old has completed an MBA at Hult International Business School and completed a business course at Harvard.
  • He is now commercial director of Yoti, the digital identity app set to revolutionise how lettings agents onboard tenants, among other things.

In June last year it hired Charnock, who before joining the company worked at Countrywide in various roles including, in his final one, as its Group Head of Innovation.

While at Countrywide he also completed an MBA and at one point headed up its new-start openings programme for lettings.

“I joined Yoti because I felt the world was moving towards a more digitised way of proving who you are and the huge range of applications which it is relevant to,” he says.

“I first came into contact with Yoti via Countrywide when scoping out a project and that’s how I came to be Commercial Director here.”

At Countrywide Charnock worked on one key project that no doubt helped him bag the Yoti role. He and a tech team built a digital lettings project within Countrywide that amalgamated two of the lettings businesses it had bought into a new proposition to create a target operating model that the rest of the group could use.

“The idea was that it would be our tech space to test innovation in a live customer environment,” he says.

“The model was widely adopted within Countrywide and became a profitable business in its own right.”

Consequently, one of the key opportunities for Yoti’s product range, which includes a contract signing service that links a person’s identity to their signature, is within lettings.

Yoti claims its tech helps renters not only prove who they are to landlords and letting agents, but also improve how they travel through the customer journey from seeing a rental property online to moving in.

“The fragmentation within that journey is pretty broad so the idea is that because the consumer owns a version of their digital identity via Yoti, they can then complete the rental with much less friction and delay,” says Charnock.

How Yoti works

“A prospective tenant sends a lead to a letting agent about an online property via Zoopla or Rightmove, and the agent sends an automated response that tells the enquirer that they accept Yoti ID to prove who they are and includes a link to the Google or Apple apps stores. When they re-contact the agent online to rent the property, they already have a Yoti verified identity which they can then share, rather than having to turn up in person or send documents via the post.”

Simon Charnock

Other opportunities Yoti sees within rentals is that its appeal is global and not just UK-wide, so renters who can’t come to the UK to on-board themselves in person at a lettings agency can do so using Yoti.

The other old-school pain point it solves is to remove the need to post copies of identity and other documents to and from potential tenants.

“Most of the big rental players in the market have adopted e-sign platform but what Yoti Sign can do is reduce the cost of establishing someone’s identity and add a level of diligence to the process which is not usually found in the rental market at the moment,” says Charnock.

Money launderers

Yoti can also be used to run background checks on buyers and sellers in the sales market to comply with Anti Money Laundering requirements, because the app is essentially a digital version of someone’s passport or driving licence.

One challenge Charnock doesn’t have to face up to is persuading consumers to use the app. As well as being useful in their rental lives, it enables them to get into pubs, buy drinks and buy or consume age-restricted products and services online all from one app.

“The beauty of Yoti is that it’s a very consumer-centric business; it allows people to prove who they are in seconds in a multitude of different digital customer journeys,” says Simon.

“For businesses, it creates operational efficiencies and enables them to build propositions around their digital journey.”
So how does Yoti make money? It’s free to consumers but when a business – for example a letting agency – receives information from Yoti about someone, it is charged a small fee to see the person’s verified credentials.

The app therefore needs scale – small charges to use it will only make a difference unless thousands of people use it every day. So it it getting there? “Yoti is getting larger every single day,” says Charnock.

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