Interview with Stefan Neagu, Co-Founder of Persona BIO

Stefan Neagu is the Co-Founder of Persona BIOStefan has extensive experience in the financial sector working for ABN Amro and the Royal Bank of Scotland, where he was part of major projects such as migrating to a new core banking system and implementation of the internet banking application.
He was, until recently, part of Innovation team of Societe Generale European Business Services and in October 2017 decided to focus more on developing the ARK blockchain platform and Persona.

1) Please tell us your name and about yourself?

My name is Stefan Neagu, 38 years old. According to my studies I should have become  a priest, but in the late 90’s I discovered computers and got swept into the technology world and have continued in this space.

2) Could you tell us more about you experience and roles at ABN Amro and the Royal Bank of Scotland?

I had the chance to join ABN Amro IT team back in 2006 and it was a life changing experience. I was part of the IT Infrastructure team that implemented a new core-banking system and internet banking service. While working for ABN, we were in a building phase, after the consortium formed by RBS, Santander, Fortis bought ABN Amro operations world wide in 2008. This was just prior to the financial crisis, and we entered in a “control shutting down” phase which presented a different set of challenges, until 2014 when the entire Romanian operation was closed, even though it was very profitable for RBS at that time.

3) You were part of Innovation team of Societe Generale European Business Services shared service center, could you tell us more about this and your role at the center?

I was part of SG EBS Innovation team until August 2017. It was a young team whose single focus was to ignite the innovation desire withinh SG EBS. SG EBS is servicing all SG entities that have operations in EMEA so it has a great importance in the organization.

As part of Innovation team in SG EBS, I organized the first corporate accelerator in Romania where together with Romanian startups tested various needs within SG EBS developed on new technologies. This is how Persona started.

4) What is Persona BIO?

Identity is a classical use case for blockchain so it is not something new. What makes it a buzz these days is the timing. After events like Equifax and Cambridge Analytica which are probably are just the tip of the iceberg, I think the world is prepared for something like Persona, a solution that makes digital identity over blockchain available. For me personally, after I discovered blockchain back in 2013, I realized that it is time to do everything I can to develop a digital identity management system over the blockchain. So developing a digital identity over blockchain become my life mission.

The first brick into “Persona foundation” was cemented during Catalyst, the first corporate accelerator in Romania, organized by me while working for SG EBS. We were having a Know Your Customer (KYC) use case for BRD (a top 3 universal bank the group SG has in Romania). The MVP was developed on Ethereum, and it was during this phase I realized that if someone would want to develop digital identity correctly on blockchain, it should be done on its own blockchain.

After the Catalyst was over, I resigned and focused on developing Persona, the digital identity management system, the way I envisioned it.

5) What is the technology behind Persona BIO, could you give us a structural and architectural analysis of the project?

Persona is based on Ark blockchain (a fork of Ark). We took this decision not because I’m one of the Ark’s founders, but we went with Ark technology because its capability tointer-connect with different other blockchains. While there are other projects that are trying to solve digital identity, Persona will be the only project in the unique position to handle identity cross blockchains.

The flow is very simple: an individual claims its identity and gets verified and validated by peers in the community. The validators are able to offer trust points and all the validators are giving the same amount of trust points (the only difference is the number of validation one validator has made, more validations equals more points). Once the individual has reached enough trust points, from that moment it can prove to third parties that it is who it says it is without actually giving access or sharing any personal details.

The documents that prove the individual’s unique attributes (ID,Passport, medical records) are stored on a private IPFS instance allowing third parties to access the files in case they need extra “insurance” that the individual is who it claims it is, particularly relevant for financial institutions which are required by regulations to maintain a hard copy of individuals documents. For utility providers or for third parties with a high risk appetite, one could prove that they are who they say they are, just by signing with a private key and documents verified by the community, and not sharing any private data, preventing the third party to become the custodian of our personal data.

6) Please tell us more about the ARK blockchain.

Ark is a Delegated Proof of Stake blockchain which creates a bridge between various blockchains, so you could execute a smart-contract on ethereum from bitcoin blockchain. Ark has been tested and we successfully inter-connected Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.

7) What are the problems you are solving and the specific Services Persona BIO will provide?

The main scope of Persona is to put individuals back in control when it comes about their private data. There is no need to transform the third party entities we are interacting with into custodians of our personal data. Keeping our data safe is not their core business, but yet we are used to sharing these details with everyone who asks for them without realizing the potential damage, and without realizing that once shared, we lose control over them. We can know for sure what is happening with our details, and if they are sold, to whom, and for what are they being used.

Persona should be seen as the backbone or a framework on top of which you could develop any kind of interaction someone might have with a third party. You see, when some common friend introduces you to somebody else, a minimum level of trust is established. That person will engage in talking/helping you based on the common friend. Without that minimum level of trust that person would have second thoughts when it comes in engaging with a unknown person. This is the trust level that Persona brings to the table. So you could say that Persona is the trust and identity platform.

Data refreshment, a very big thorn for financial institutions, is going to be history if they use Persona. Having identity depreciating in time, all the participants in Persona with whom I have a relation, potentially have access to the latest personal data I have. If I change my address now, I’ll need to go again through the verification and validation process, but the entities I have a relation with, will have access to the latest verified and validated address. I’m verified and validated once everyone has the latest updates.

8) On what stage of development is the Persona BIO project and what is next on your roadmap?

Persona is not the usual blockchain where there is just one type of transaction. We validate and verify transactions, and claim identity transaction, just to mention a few.

Based on my knowledge, Persona is the only digital identity project in which the claimed identity is depreciating in time, requiring a regular validation.

We are working hard to launch the first modules on a public testnet: the claim identity (IPFS included), verification and validation. These three components are to be expected on public testnet soon and by the end of year we should have the end-to-end MVP ready.

This includes also tests in real life scenarios with our partners and fine tuning based on their needs, and in line with the regulations in their field of activity.

Once we have the MVP ready and tested with our partners, we will focus on two main components: adding more attributes such as claiming and verifying your Linkedin or Facebook account, and medical records including pre-existing conditions amongst others, and we are preparing to sign with more partnerships.

For example one bank or a mobile carrier could eventually offer identity as a service: since I’m already a customer of that bank and now I want to sign with a mobile carrier, I could have the bank proving to the mobile carrier that I am who I say I am instead of having me bringing in all the documents or going again through an onboarding process again.And this is something that could work domestic and cross-border also.

Also, in Europe there is this migrants crisis. We want to join and we are already discussing with ID2020 initiative to find a way to provide identity to all those unfortunate people that are fleeing their war devastated countries for a better life. Providing them identity means that they could apply for a bank account or get hired, minimizing the risk of radicalization or excluding them from the layers of the society they want to be part of it.

9) Do you have any team members or partners you will like to share with us ?

We have a signed partnerships with Fintrux (a P2P lending ecosystem) where Persona will deliver a smooth onboarding process, providing KYC/AML).

Other interested parties to test and implement Persona are a series of OTC desks, a crypto-friendly bank, a crypto exchange and a mobile carrier from Romania. We are discussing with Polymath, because their need of accredited investors, just that in this case, there are different regulations depending on the geography and solving this challenge is not that easy.  

The first use-case Persona will focus on is the KYC/AML. Is the “low hanging fruit” and makes the onboarding process better and safer for both parties: customers and providers. But in a not so far away future, one could use Persona as foundation for a decentralized social network, or for medical records, to fight fake news, reputation system or real democracy voting system just to mention the most obvious use cases.

And this is possible because what a person adds in Persona are attributes (ID, skills, past experience or study certifications, just to name the most common attributes) and once you have the identity of someone, the sky is the limit on what you can built on top of that. Based on those attributes you could use Persona for almost any kind of interaction individuals have with thirds parties, or companies.

10) Do you have more information for our readers?

Persona is a Delegated Proof of Stake blockchain, with 51 delegates, listed on the COSS exchange. Everyone interested in digital identity can join our community on slack or telegram . Soon, they can claim their identity on our public testnet and they can experience what we always envisioned for Persona.

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