EP20 – Nicos Vekiarides, CEO of Attestiv on Using Blockchain to Authenticate Digital Assets

We have now seen them. Photos and videos that look so real that it seems impossible that they could be fake…but they are. Imagine making underwriting or adjusting decisions based on doctored or fraudulent imagery.

In this episode, I spoke with Nicos Vekiarides, CEO of Attestiv. Attestiv is using blockchain technology to certify aspects of digital assets crucial for insurers. By adding in AI and machine learning, over time, we can arrive at solutions to thwart deep fake fraud.

Watch here:

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Attestiv Homepage

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Attestiv Demo

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Transcript

Nick
no. Well, I'm the fortunate one. Nicos. Um, I get I'm the one that gets to talk to really smart and professional folks that are making a difference in the industry. So Nico, why don't you introduce yourself and your company and give us a little elevator pitch?

Nicos V
Sure, sure. So I'm Nicos Vekiarides. I'm the CEO of Attestiv and we are a company that focuses on providing authenticity of digital photos, videos and data. And what we solved is we solved a problem that you may have heard from other in other circles, sort of the deep fake problem, right? It's become very easy for people to use AI to enhance photos. videos, and of course easy to alter digital data. And where we come in is we help stop that. And it's particularly important for companies that rely on photos and videos to make actionable decisions. So what kind of companies are those? When we first started this we set up a public safety space, surveillance...insurance, right insurance uses photos and videos to make decisions all the time. It's an industry that's, that where there's a great deal of fraud. If we look at P&C alone, there's $40 billion in fraud in the US and and a lot of it is this soft fraud and that this is where we can help with with a platform like ours. So what we do is we provide a platform that can serve as a basis for tamper proofing all of your media so effectively, not only can you prevent the fraud from getting in. But you can also do a lot more, start to advance some of your digital transformation initiatives and essentially, create much better user experiences for your customers.

Nick
Okay, so I have a phone, when I take a picture on this creates all sorts of metadata that I'm able to go in, I can see dates, I can see places. Explained to me why why do we need more? And if you can give us give us a couple of use cases where your technology is better than what this thing produces?

Nicos V
Yeah, absolutely. And well, the beauty of where it starts is everybody has one of these. So a lot of insurance carriers have have moved ahead with things like self service inspections, why not? Should I send an inspector over to look at your house, particularly if it's maybe a yearly or every few years, I want to do an inspection? Well, everybody has a great camera on this thing. It takes, you know, high resolution images, it can store the metadata with them. It's all good. Except these photos can be tampered with, right? It's as easy as Photoshop. So everybody has access to Photoshop, you could change things around sometimes they say just import the photos from anywhere. And then you start seeing some fraud out there. As you know, some people download pictures off the internet and they say, Well, here's, here's the damage that I want you to look at. When disaster happens, you know, you can be at the wrong place, and you can be taking photos of the house next door and using it as part of your claim. I mean, it's you know, it's all fraudulent, but it does happen out there. And there are many instances where this type of fraud happens now not with Attestiv, what we do is we utilize our unique technology. It's patent pending, so that the instant that you take a photograph or a video, or capture a document, it doesn't matter which and we have some really neat AI that helps with document capture. But in either case, the moment that this is captured, we create a fingerprint. And the fingerprint encompasses all of the content of the image, all of the metadata time, date, location, and even the user. And that gets stored on this immutable distributed ledger or blockchain on the nice thing about blockchain is it's very, very difficult to change once you store something there. And this fingerprint that has nothing identifiable in it, nobody can can read it, but what it does have is it has the property that if you recalculate the fingerprint of this media asset in the future, it will match and it will tell you that it hasn't changed from its original caption.

Nick
Yeah. So right now the use cases that you do have, are they are they on the auto side? Are they on the property side? Give give us a give us a sense on how this is currently being used?

Nicos V
I think the short answer is yes. They're on the auto side. They're on the property side. So I say

Nick
All of the above

Nicos V
If you look at our website, you'll see some of the things we've done on on the auto side. So we have an auto quote workflow, that essentially, you know, people talk about getting an auto quoted 15 minutes. Well, we'll get your auto quote in two minutes. Well, how do we do that? And not only that, but we'll get you better quality data with that auto quote. Well, how do we do that? Well just ask you to either take four photos of the vehicle or walk around it with your camera and take a video. Now you have this baseline condition at the asset Then instead of filling out 50 questions in the application, we just have you scan a few documents, right? Take a picture of your registration, scan the barcode on your driver's license, take a photo of your old dec page, right, and then we just extract all this information and plug it in for you. So literally within minutes, you can complete an auto application. But the nice thing about it is now you also have a baseline condition of the asset that you're insuring. And we have a video on site that demonstrates that and that's being used by some of our insurance agency customers today. On the producer side, some of the other thing we do very similar things with home inspections. We also do very similar things with the first notice of loss. So if you know if you want to start putting together gathering all of the information from an accident or damage, you can do that very quickly and file it with your capture it through our system and simply submit it to an insurance agency or carrier through our system. And now you have these validated assets that anybody really anybody in the whole insurance ecosystem can look and validate and ensure that they haven't been tampered in any way.

Nick
Yeah, it's funny how fast technology is moving because it was just four or five years ago, that you just started to see the emergence of the self inspection. Right? Yeah, we're building this technology so that you can deliver it to as a text message to your property owner, and they can self inspect whether it's a claim or the, you know, initial underwriting inspection. And it's how long has your company been? Alive.

Nicos V
So we we actually Closed our initial funding. So we started, we started in mid 2018.

Nick
Okay, so, then the numbers work. So it was four or five years ago that this technology started to really start to emerge. And it's funny your company comes in, and just within that short span, fraudsters are gonna be able to figure out, hey, since they're allowing us to do our own inspections, there's a whole bunch of stuff that we can do to get the insurance companies to pay us for things that we don't deserve. And so it's like, it's just amazing how fast the technology has needed to evolve to sort of catch up to this. Could you give us the backstory where where did the idea start to come from that you started to formulate it and at what point did insurance become part of the solution?

Nicos V
Yeah. So So myself I this is my 3rd startup. So myself and my co founder, we started two companies in the past. One of them, we sold to HP, the second one twin strata, which we did cloud storage, we're in the data storage IT space. So we were very much in that enterprise space, but primarily for storing data. But as we kind of moved, moved out of our last engagement, let's say because we got acquired by EMC, and we worked there for a few years. And when we left EMC, we said, Well, what do we do next, in the data storage space, and we said, well, you know, storage has become a little bit of a commodity these days, but nobody's really looking at the value of the data, whether the value has whether the data has been tampered in some way. And it was just at a time when the term fake news became a household word, right. And a lot of people coming to me and saying, Well, you know, how do you trust what what's online and, you know, there's photos and videos, but I have no idea how to make any sense of it. So we started it with the idea that, hey, maybe we can at least start looking at digital media and restore a little bit of order to this world. And the most, the most obvious space would be sort of social media and, and media but then again, that's a very consumer space. So our background has been b2b type businesses. And of course, we, you know, we still look at that space and we say, well, you know, who's actually going to pay for this, someone would actually have to pay for, you know, knowing that, that something is not fake. I think a lot of people may may like fake news media, for what it's worth. But on the other hand, in the enterprise space, there's a big need because when fakes start seeping into the enterprise, it can result in fraud. It can result in reputational harm, and it can often, you know, hurt a business in many ways. So we started looking at wealth flow, start with photos and media who uses them. And that's what led us to public safety and insurance and, and our third co founder here at Attestiv, actually had a background in insurance. So that's Mark Morley. He had a background in insurance and we started talking to insurance companies. And sure enough, they got this technology right away. They said, Oh, we get it. We're trying to expand. We're trying to do more with self service. And this is one of the threats that we're looking at is the increasing risk of fraud. Fast forward to today, where you know, with COVID, maybe you don't even want to send an inspector into a house or the homeowner doesn't want to inspect factor in their house, right? How do you handle that? And self service makes a lot of sense. But but you really need the right foundation to ensure that you can stop fraud. And once you have that foundation, then you can expand these digital initiatives with confidence. Yeah.

Nick
Can you talk about what an engagement looks like? So if insurance company is interested, and I'm particularly interested, given the stereotype of insurers having a lot of this legacy technology that's not dovetailing very nicely with modern technology. How do you work with them? How could they expect to work with you?

Nicos V
Well, there's, you know, there's interesting entry points, let's put it that way. So a lot of insurers do have apps they do have mobile apps. And they have started to use pictures now. Whether they rely on these are weather they send inspectors and appraisers. That that's still in place. So what we do is we kind of holistically look at the whole insurance ecosystem in places where we could help the most. So for instance, if we look at the producer side, about 50%, of insurance carriers work with agencies, right? The agencies, you know, they tend to be lagging and technology a lot of time. And this makes perfect sense in terms of Well, how do you, you know, how do you enable more self service capability often they're the ones that are running out doing inspections true, or they're they're asking customers to come into their office, and in order to get a get a car insured, or get a home insured? Well, how can we make a lot of this process a lot easier for them and that's, that's through our products, and not Oftentimes is simply embedding our links on their website. So now instead of having a website that looks more like a, you know, just sort of a brochure, now you have a functional website where you can click on a few links and start engaging with these workflows. 24 seven, anytime an insurance agent comes to their office in the morning, and they might see, here's some quotes that came in, here's a couple of first notice of losses that came in. And now instead of having a person describe all of this to me, I have a head start on it, I can, I can do things a lot faster, a lot easier. When it comes to carriers. We look at entry points are often inspection. So a lot of inspections are still not self service or if they are self service, they're kind of risky, because now you're risking the fraud. So that's one area particularly in the commercial space. So commercial inspections can be that they're relatively, you know, you're probably familiar. Each one can be relatively unique. So how do you how do you spin up an inspection for a restaurant versus a software company? versus a, a huge global company? And how do you, you know, how do you do this in a self service manner. And what we've done is we've we've created a a very flexible and customizable platform where you can effectively input a specification, and we spit out the inspection and we let you issue it to whoever needs to be needs to do the inspection on the other side in a self service manner. So that you know that that sort of gives you two ways. I think the third way, which is, you know, there's a lot of insurance carriers who have apps and we have API. So we say, Well, if you have the apps, why not integrate with our API's, something You at least have that level of protection built in. Yeah.

Nick
And the data storage because I'm assuming the founding team has a storage background. It's you basically have that covered as well. It's it you're not relying on the carrier or the broker to store the information. You have that in with you know, some sort of stamping that's done via a blockchain.

Nicos V
Yeah, yeah. So we do the we do the fingerprinting via the blockchain and, and part of our part of our experience working with enterprises on data storage is sometimes a lot of customers are content storing in the cloud and others want it stored on their systems in there for a while. So we give them all of the options. So if they want if they prefer to store the data locally, then we allow them to do just that. The fingerprints like I said, they're they're non reversible, so you can't generate any any meaningful data out of them. Are we stored in the cloud for those who want and in that case, we use secure encrypted storage?

Nick
Yeah, I have spoken to some companies that are using imagery to basically add an AI or machine learning element to it to try to identify what it's looking at. Does does your does your technology do that? Or is it are you looking? Are you aiming to do that at some point?

Nicos V
Yeah, I mean, the possibilities are kind of endless here. So once once you have the photographs once here, you know, to be able to automate a lot of these pieces, you know, think of an inspection right here. If you're doing a home inspection, and suddenly there's a swimming pool in the backyard, you actually don't need a human being to tell you that there's a swimming pool in one of these photos. So that's someplace where machine learning and AI can help a lot and we are looking at All of those as we enhance our products, it's really building in more AI more automation. Initially, you know, we're using a lot of AI for training to extract from documents, as you know, insurance is very document heavy. And being able to extract things from documents is a huge accelerate.

Nick
Yeah. There may be some that are listening that don't quite understand blockchain. I guess there's a you know, there's generally a lot of confusion with blockchain and Bitcoin. They're not the same thing. Can you talk specifically about what blockchain is? And what I think it has a really positive future. In insurance. you've nailed one of the use cases, but talk about what blockchain is and why it's important to how insurance transactions are being conducted in the future.

Nicos V
Yeah, blockchain has a huge ability to transform the insurance space. And I think you know where we're hitting it is kind of right at the tip of the iceberg. So, blockchain is a ledger, you can think of it as a database. And, you know, sometimes the first question we get is, well, why can't this be my centralized database that I manage? Right? Right? And the difference is that in with blockchain, it's not managed by a single entity. And you know, you know, putting Bitcoin and cryptocurrency aside, it's it's really a database that makes this work. It's a ledger that makes this work. And, and the idea is, yeah, I can manage my own database. But imagine if I had 10,000 people managing this database, and in order to go back and rewrite history or change things, I actually have to get half of those 10,000 people to agree makes it a very monumental task. And that's the idea behind blockchain is and it's a system that can that can work across multiple organizations, particularly the public ledger or even a permissioned private ledger, all you have to do is get an entry point is get permission then. But the idea is think of it as a as a database that's not centrally managed. It's managed by a bunch of of these nodes. And it has a consensus model where you have to get a majority of them to agree to change anything so so what are the benefits there? Number one is you can have a bad actor go in and write history, rewrite history. The other thing is that there's something that you know, we all know is the insider threat in large IT companies. You hire somebody that they know The bad actor, but suddenly they have access to all of the systems. Well, if it's on a distributed ledger, a bad actor, still can't alter these records because you need a huge consensus of others to do so. So it's being adopted as a solution because it's just very powerful. Think of the insurance ecosystem. You've got the insured customers, you've got adjusters, you've got agents and producers. You've got the carrier's hack, you've got repair shops, maybe you've got the, you know, you've got things sometimes coming from, from police and fire departments. So you know, how do you get everybody on a single system that can be trusted? Well, this is a great application for distributed ledger. Now as it grows into things you've probably heard of smart contracts. You can do things like be able to pay out automatically Right. So if you have an insurance policy and some of the small policies today, like your travel insurance as the flights canceled, you really need a human being to figure out that the flight is canceled, or can it be? Can it be done through an automated system, and it can do this securely. So as we, as we see, you know, if something like this lives on a distributed ledger, then there's a lot of enhancements that can happen in the future to really automate and transform. And so I hope that that's a long answer.

Nick
It's, hard not to have a long answer when it comes to that. And I think what's interesting is that as companies like yours, come in to the insurance sphere did or not insurance, they're just either, you know, are touching an element that then becomes part of the insurance ecosystem. You're adding an additional element to it. You're a part of the decentralization of the of the information you're another note or another confirmation another part of the consensus about what is this? Is this a car? Is this a house? What kind of car what kind of house? What color is it? You know, what's it made out of? And to me, that's the that's the the richest element. When I first started to learn about the blockchain, part of it was, you know, there's so much duplication of effort, insurance, you know, just trying to figure out, like the house that I'm in, there are so many different entities that have kind of confirmed what this is, you know, the town, the, the mortgage company, the insurance company, like there's my contractors, there's so many you know, disparate entities that can kind of confirm and say I it's a two story wood frame home and Naples, Florida. The size this color it just seems like over it over it as the as the information as more stakeholders come in it just makes it one harder to for bad actors to do something to it and secondly ads more layers of certainty to what is this what is this thing that that we are ensuring and I love how you got into the smart contracts because I can envision a world it's I think the low hanging fruit is some of those binary transactions but just getting to a fire you know and be having someone being able to take a picture and having again your phone with your technology and it say this picture this is taking a picture of the right home and having AI then say okay, there was a fire we can immediately dispense a certain amount of money into the into their bank account. And it may need to be adjusted. But we can do that quickly. And it's just the efficiencies I see coming from just being able to have certainty about what it is we're insuring. is amazing.

Nicos V
Yeah, absolutely. And, and if you think about it, the fire happens, you might have a fire inspector come in and take fix Where did these fixtures go? Do they wind up going to the the right place? And then you may have, you know, the insurance company sends an adjuster or may go Self Service and the insured may ask for a public adjuster. And then suddenly you have all of these parties operating on different systems. And I think what what blockchain does is it instills a level of trust if everybody is using it. And it doesn't have to be the same blockchain. It can have multiple block chains out there, but it instills this level of trust, where you can say Well, hey, now I can trust this third party, but maybe I don't have To do all of this redundant work,

Nick
yeah. How long is it like where can this go? Because to me, it doesn't seem like a, too much of a of a long stretch for if you're, let's say a lot of your technology or companies like yours that are doing something similar, are handling the insurance transaction. Well, it doesn't seem like too much of a leap that the community the municipality itself, townhall should also be on a have the blockchain be able to link like, when are these going to start to link where we get some efficiencies and insurance and those one link goes to municipalities and now all of a sudden, we get some more efficiencies there and it starts to network out viral, almost you could say in this this bad joke, but it is similar to that. How long how many years do you think it'll start taking before we start? Seeing these sprouts and these networking effects really taking hold. And we'll have like ecosystems of this basically helping to solidify the security of the information that's being transmitted and for transactions.

Nicos V
Yeah, it's gonna take a few years. I mean, like everything, it's, it's, it's sort of interesting. It's sort of, you know, blockchain is a key element of this. So if we have any say in it, we expect that to happen sometime next year. Of course, but not to, you know, not to be overconfident on that it does. It does take a while for adoption. I mean, I mean, if you look at right, right now, we're still up until, I'd say up until the last couple of years. You know, we were we've been at this point where blockchain is an intriguing technology and it's still a technology. Think back to the internet, internet was an intriguing technology for how many years before people discovered, hey, e commerce, this thing can really make the world completely different. And then that people talk about the internet. No, they talk about it, you know, they talked about, well, I can just go to Amazon, buy it do all of these, these things securely, without having to, you know, get up. But But you know, so sort of getting from the point where it's, it's about blockchain to really it's about, hey, linking this this ecosystem, whether it's, you know, the insurance ecosystem, and there really is a link to the public safety ecosystem, right? We're actually working with public safety and law enforcement to because a lot of the data they have is interesting, right? Correct. fires, all of this information is interesting for the whole ecosystem. So you know, we're we're advancing it. We think the time is now and we are we are pushing your heart.

Nick
Yeah. So you've had two other startups. So coming into this foreign field, even though one of your founders does have an insurance background, how different has it been? And as an outsider appearing in how do you view the future of how technology is going to impact this specific industry?

Nicos V
Well, it's interesting, right? The issue with insurance, what we're seeing is we're seeing some pockets of adoption, right? So there are, a lot of insurance carriers that have their innovation arms, and we happen to be part of Plug and Play, which has been great because it kind of gives us a direct connection into the innovation side and we do see a lot of interest in the innovation but on the other hand, you have, you know, an industry that's been running certain ways for for many years. A lot of if it's not broken, let's not fix it. Or if it's, you know, you know, and then and arguably at the end of the day, we can say, Well, hey, we can improve your loss ratios. But, but but if, you know, if people feel that, well, they're good enough now, then it's really getting past good enough. And that's, you know, it makes it a little bit more challenging and insurance. But on the other hand, when we can provide instant value, and somebody and we see somebody who's thinking about a carrier who's thinking about self service, and we say, Well, if you do self service This way, you can also reduce fraud at the same time. Or we can even connect our system to your existing assets and determine how many of them may have been tampered with. It becomes an eye opener and that's, you know,

that's really what it takes to get in here. Usually, you know, it's it's sort of tough to disturb someone He's been doing the same thing for the last 20 years and say, Hey, here's, here's a better way to do it.

Nick
Yeah. So how can people reach you?

Nicos V
So attestiv.com is our website. And, you know, so certainly, if they want to reach me directly, you know, nicos@attestiv.com. But, you know, we're happy to there's a lot of great stuff on our website, you can see demos of our of our products, you can request a demo. The nice thing about this is it's kind of very easy to use, it creates great user experiences, and we can show you how it works very fast and it's very easy to deploy it. Mostly, it's cloud based.

Nick
Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to to update us and given us a lecture on blockchain. We we always like that.

Nicos V
Okay, great. Well, thank you Nick, thank you for having me here today. And, you know, I look forward to having more discussions in the future especially as we as we convert the world to to the blockchain way of thinking. You got it you got it.

Nick
So for all of those that are listening again, be safe. Don't forget to subscribe and I will put all of Nico's his information and the company information in the show notes so if you want to see the transcript, watch the video Listen to this or connect with Nicos. Just go and see the show notes and until next time, thank you. Yassou Nicos.

Nicos V
Yassou, that's pretty good.

Nick
Thanks.