Calling for an imminent review of the 2005 Gambling Act, the UK government seeks to scrutinise the ‘under the bonnet’ components servicing online gambling incumbents.
Amid heightened political scrutiny, Alastair Graham Chief Executive of age attribution software provider AgeChecked, details to SBC why in 2020 industry leadership needs to deepen its skillset and sophistication of tools related to age verification dynamics.
SBC: Hi Alastair, thanks for this interview, can you detail AgeChecked’s verification technology to SBC readers and your firm’s approach to working with diverse gambling incumbents?
Alastair Graham (CEO AgeChecked): Sure, AgeChecked is a provider of secure and anonymised age verification services, working with igaming companies to ensure that they meet the ‘ever-changing’ regulations when registering players. As you say, the gambling industry consists of such a diverse range of organisations, therefore compliance requirements differ depending on how and where they operate.
Our approach is to provide a range of verification services as individual solutions that are all part of a common framework. That means in one integration companies have a choice of verification methods to implement. On the affiliate level, you may need a simple light touch age-gate on the site to stop underage play whereas for an operator you’re likely to require an array of age and identity verification checks, including PEPs and sanctions checks.
The advantage to this approach is flexibility. Firstly, with such a wide range of requirements, it is the best way to get the best fit at a client level. But also, when a new regulation pops up – e.g. this month’s Dutch age verification regulation – we can quickly add a new service to the platform without our clients having to change anything on their side.
SBC: As a technology stakeholder, how did you view the industry difficulties overcoming new KYC and compliance demands enforced during the course of 2019?
AG: Gambling operators are already used to the KYC demands of the Gambling Commission for customers, but even so, it is extremely impressive how pragmatically and efficiently the gaming industry reacts to regulatory change. We work across many different sectors and the gaming industry, despite having more regulatory changes than most, adapts to the changes more readily than other sectors seem to.
The key difficulty we face as a technology provider is offering the igaming companies a cost-effective solution that verifies the age of a player with little or no impact on their user experience, which is their key concern. This is why we developed the AgeChecked API which now easily integrates with our client’s websites allowing us to verify a player in the background, securely and quickly, as they are registering.
SBC: Betting leadership has had a year to adjust and accommodate for these new changes. Where do you feel that their dialogue and thinking has to now be focused?
Most operators and some affiliates have taken the initiative to achieve compliance with the new rules. But our experience is that there are many affiliates who are not applying them, and many are not even aware of the rules. Of course, affiliates are not regulated directly, so it is licence-holding operators who are now taking the risk by the Commission if they have relationships with non-compliant affiliates.
So, operators should be undertaking careful due diligence of new and existing affiliates to ensure they are conducting rigorous age checks.
SBC: Business reports and operator trading statements detailed that incumbents’ have doubled (or even tripled) software expenditure meeting compliance demands. Is this a correct approach, or has leadership underestimated other core dynamics such as staff training, improved customer service, internal reporting?
AG: It seems regulatory scrutiny is growing faster than the business. The fines that are being imposed for getting things wrong are so significant that not responding in kind by investing in automation, skills, and reporting could be seen as a risky call.
Despite running a reg-tech company, I’m not going to say that technology can fix all the problems raised by new regs and more stringent enforcement. Staff costs and training are going to play a significant aspect of the compliance spend for the foreseeable future, especially with global operators, where a ream of new regulations are on the horizon.
For our part, we aim to do our best to create reg-tech solutions that tick all the compliance boxes but focus minimising the effect on revenue generation. A large gaming affiliate client of ours recently reported a significant conversion increase after introducing our age verification service on their site – so not all compliance measures hit the top line!
SBC: Beyond securing age and ID verification requirements, regulators demand for operators to stop vulnerable consumer engagements with gambling content – Can this dynamic really be achieved by software components?
AG: Technically it is possible to do this, but there has to be a common-sense approach behind the requirement of online protection that is rooted in the real world. There are practical technical solutions which can be adapted to move things in the right direction but do not go so far as to create barriers to business. As technology gets better, protections can be put in place. A series of regular improvement steps in protections seems to be the pragmatic approach, rather than big leaps that are likely to create significant friction to the user experience.
SBC: As a tech leader, how do you ensure that AgeChecked clients are building effective compliance frameworks, that can adapt to swift regulatory change?
AG: Our role is to provide automated compliance tools, that are always up to date with the changing regulatory environments. We pay close attention to the changes for each sector that we work in and focus our technical development on delivering that compliance.
Globally regulators seem to be dropping bombshells more frequently – “we need this in place by January”. If you can’t provide a technical solution in time for the regulation to come into effect, then clients are exposed.
SBC: Finally, entering a new decade, how will the sector’s present and future compliance demands reshape the gambling sector and its incumbents?
AG: Effective, responsible use of customers’ data to protect them from harm is critical to the survival and economic growth of the online gambling sector. This will see ever-greater demands from the regulator on operators of all sizes, not just the current focus on the market leaders. Plus more countries are introducing regulation, and countries with existing regulation are increasing the compliance requirements.
So, there is certainly a challenge for operators and affiliates to demonstrate their compliance and to ensure they are doing – and being seen as doing – their very best to protect the under-age and vulnerable.
Alastair Graham – CEO – AgeChecked