2015: a year in background checks

Safe and reliable background checking procedures are critical to all companies and organisations. Whether a major multinational or a small charity with a handful of volunteers, nothing matters more than ensuring the people you hire can be trusted.

Yet despite the widespread and global need for background checks, the industry has been, until very recently, lagging behind in terms of digital innovation. Paper-based applicant forms and manual processes resulted in slow turnaround times and increased costs as well as a greater likelihood of human error.

2015 marked a turning point. Continuing to introduce technology and machine-learning software into the background checking industry has no doubt played its role, but the biggest shift has been in the perception of background checks. With the rapid growth of Sharing & On Demand Economy platforms such as Uber and BlaBlaCar, both clients and consumers are becoming more aware of the need for background checks.

Below are my thoughts on the major developments in background checking over the past twelve months and what the implications are for the future.

An ‘intelligent’ revolution modernises an archaic industry

In a world where most industries - from food to travel - have undergone a digital transformation, it may come as a surprise just how much the background checking industry relies on paper-based processes. Until very recently, almost 90% of background checking was carried out manually in some form or other.

In our fast-moving digital economy, relying on a manual screening process is an anachronism businesses can’t afford. The process is slow, causing costly delays in onboarding workers, and is also prone to incidents of human error which could have severe consequences.

Automated processes and the application of new technologies is flipping this industry on its head. New machine-learning based software can verify documents quickly and accurately without the need for human input. Most importantly, the software can operate at scale, processing high volumes at high speed without compromising on accuracy - something which manual checking or even traditional software simple cannot match.

Whether a global recruitment agency or a booming sharing economy startup, a scalable background checking solution is essential for these businesses to scale themselves.

Regional bottlenecks and barriers melt away

In our modern and globalised economy, workers, students and officials constantly cross borders to find work. In the past, international movement of workers required firms to use specialised regional agencies for screening - often separate to the agencies they would use domestically. Such processes tended to be even slower and more costly than local checks.

In 2015, advances in technology started having a game-changing impact on this aspect of background checking. Now, in a matter of seconds, software can access vast databases to verify passports, driver licenses and other ID documents , from all corners of the planet. This has drastically reduced the need for manual identification of both document types and their issuing states.

These databases are constantly being expanded and the ability of machine-learning algorithms to interpret and continually learn from these sources will only smoothen, speed up and strengthen the system. As geopolitical developments bring identification and background matters increasingly to the fore in 2016, simplifying and improving international checking processes will continue to be a key focus and an area of much progress.

Affordable and scalable

Technology has done much to level the battleground SMEs and large corporates compete upon. Social media now allows small firms to engage with an audience as easily as a well-funded corporate firm, and e-commerce has enabled local businesses to sell and compete globally with any multinational.

Background checking is the latest industry to follow this welcome trend, and 2015 saw a wave of SMEs starting to take advantage of the cost and time savings these new services offer.

A local start-up wishing to hire remote staff from the other side of the world can now, without external help, check a person’s identity and background in another continent as easily as they could someone in the same town - a major tool to leverage for organisations looking to scale up or expand internationally.

Safer, more accessible checking for the modern business

The continued rise of the Sharing & On Demand Economy (SODE) in 2015 generated a new set of pressures in relation to employee screening. These new ‘on-demand’ services offer consumers everything, from taxi alternatives to domestic carers, at a lower cost. Customers will not step in a stranger’s car or invite someone they’ve never met into their homes if they cannot trust them, yet sharing economy firms almost never physically meet those who use their platforms to find work.

As a result, the popularity of these services has created unprecedented demands for accessible, robust background checking procedures that work remotely, rapidly and with complete accuracy.

The growth of the SODE has shone a spotlight on the archaic infrastructure and logistical shortcomings of traditional background checking solutions. In contrast, modern background checking software is built to service this kind of industry and onboard both users and workers, helping consumers know they can place their trust in both the platform and the people using it.

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Husayn is Onfido's CEO, and the smile behind the company. An entrepreneur by nature, Husayn was only 12 when he started up his first business: selling foreign music online.