Answering Mobile Authentication’s Most Important Question

The SIM card has long been a cornerstone of mobile phone convenience and security – and it’s only growing in importance. With SIM cards now being installed in everything from smart cars to smart TVs to smartwatches, this 12×8-millimeter piece of technology sits poised at the center of not only telecommunications, but also the rapidly expanding mobile commerce ecosystem.

To Payfone CEO and co-founder Rodger Desai, the SIM is both a solution to consumer mobile payment concerns, and more broadly, a way to help reduce friction on the web. One that in the process could eliminate passwords, registration forms and all manner of current security standards that consumers and companies have become accustomed to.

“At Payfone, we’re focusing on authenticating mobile identity, and what that means is that as we transition to a digital and mobile world, we have to make sure people are who they say they are, without making the process extremely laborious,” Desai told in an exclusive interview.

The result is now being lauded as a better way to help banks or enterprises identify consumers, and by extension, reduce fraud and complexity in a system that still hasn’t found a way to address core consumer concerns.

Why does Payfone believe so strongly in the SIM, and what does it see as its biggest obstacle toward its goals? Market Platform Dynamics (MPD) CEO Karen Webster spoke with Desai in an exclusive interview for answers.

Karen Webster: Tell us more about the magic around Payfone’s mobile authentication technology. How does it work and how do banks benefit?

Rodger Desai: Most of the folks at Payfone come from telecom world, and to us, the phone is pretty magical. If you look at just how you use your phone, you pick up your phone, you make a phone call, you don’t log into the network. You can take our phone anywhere in the world and this is true. You don’t show up in China and have to log into the Chinese operator.

From where we sit, the phone has already solved identity, primarily because of the SIM card. In contrast, if you look at the web, our lives are full of friction, we have to identify who we are every step of the process, we have to register, we have to log in, we have to fill out forms, and even then, ultimately companies are not sure if the people are who they say they are.

This summer a researcher in Germany hacked into SIM cards. Doesn’t this mean the SIM card is at risk?

For one, the SIM has not been hacked. What we’ve seen is that the role of the phone is becoming so paramount in our lives globally, it’s no surprise that hackers have focused their time on the phone, the SIM and those kind of things. But, we don’t have phone calls charged to us that we didn’t make, that hasn’t happened.

The phone companies have spent billions of dollars creating a standard that is among the most secure in the world, and that to date has not been hacked. In fact, over $300 billion of activity is underwritten using the SIM card every year. We’re taking advantage of that investment and those advantages and we’re bringing that to the web.

Consumers have concerns about using mobile to conduct commerce. Given all of this concern, can you give us your view on the authentication solutions will solve this problem?

Our industry has to answer, ‘If I lose my phone, do I lose my money?’ That’s really what’s at stake. Consumers will want to do more things on their phone if they have trust that they can do these things in a safe manner. Banks will try to transport many of their services to phones and companies will try to conduct similar activities. The phone is very powerful and very capable, but consumers must trust that these things can be done in a safe manner, and not increase risk and create new holes and new opportunities for them to lose their money.

Ultimately, I think that’s what we’re doing at Payfone to try and address that, is bringing the magic of how the phone system itself is protected to the web.

Which banks are already using Payfone’s solution, and when will we start to see these capabilities in market? For these answers and to learn more about Payfone’s recent partnership with Early Warning listen to the full podcast here.


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Rodger Desai is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Payfone, Inc.

Previously, Rodger served as co-founder and CEO of Rave, Inc. Rave’s safety services are now deployed at over 600 universities. Prior to Rave, Rodger was co-founder and CEO of the Vettro Corp., an innovator in mobile banking and brokerage, LBS apps, and J2ME.

Rodger started his career as an executive in Accenture’s telecom practice, after engineering management positions at ExxonMobil and GE. He has also assisted in initiatives that leverage the use of mobile phones in emerging markets for social causes, such as disease surveillance in Iraq, and micro-financed village phone programs in Asia.

Rodger graduated from RPI and attended the Harvard Business School.



Digital transformation has been forcefully accelerated, but how does that agility translate into the fight against COVID-era attacks and sophisticated identity threats? As millions embrace online everything, preserving digital trust now falls mostly on banks and FIs. Now, advances in identity data and using different weights on the payment mix afford new opportunities to arm organizations and their customers against cyberthreats. From the latest in machine learning for fraud and risk, to corporate treasury teams working in new ways with new datasets, learn from experts how digital identity, together with advances like real-time payments, combine to engender trust and enrich relationships.

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