TransferWise founder Taavet Hinrikus launches Covid’s test service

Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder and president of TransferWise, speaks at a technology conference in London on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg via Getty Images

LONDON – Taavet Hinrikus took over the financial services sector with an online platform for international money transfers. Its next target is the viral pandemic that has been defined in the past 12 months.

The co-founder of TransferWise on Wednesday launched a new start-up called Certific. Founded alongside other entrepreneurs Jack Kreindler and Liis Narusk, the new Hinrikus company aims to improve the coronavirus testing experience remotely from home.

TransferWise “came up with a product 10 times better, cheaper and faster” than those offered by major banks and remittance firms, Hinrikus argued in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday.

TransferWise’s founders transformed the company from a start-up payments company into a $ 5 billion fintech giant over the past decade. There are rumors that the company is preparing an initial public offering for this year. TransferWise declined to comment on the IPO speculation.

“We were looking at the world of medical testing and it was as backward as financial services,” added the Estonian businessman.

“Where Ceritific comes in is that there is a way to be tested in a reliable way that we think is a 10 times better experience, similar to TransferWise,” said Hinrikus.

What is Certific?

Certific is an application that verifies the identity of users and instructs them on how to do Covid-19 tests, with doctors trained and ready to verify the test result and provide certification. It will be released only to individuals and businesses in the UK on Wednesday, but will be released in other countries over time.

The tests are not sold by Certific, but by a company called CHHP, which was co-founded by Kreindler. CHHP says it is accredited by the UK’s national accreditation body, UKAS, to offer Covid-19 tests.

The Certific test provider will initially sell polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests for £ 64 (US $ 89) per unit. Customers send the test kits to a laboratory to determine the result and certification is made available by the application the next day.

Soon, Certific will also offer rapid testing of antigens on packages of 12 that will cost £ 249. He says the latest tests will produce a result in less than 90 minutes. Certific earns revenue from a fee charged to customers for its test certificate.

After a user takes the test and records the result in the application, he will receive a digital certificate, as well as a QR code containing information about the test result. The idea is that users can eventually use these certificates for recreation or trips abroad.

“Given that there is the right test applicable to the use case, you can use it while going to the cinema, a show or a sporting event,” Narusk, CEO of Certific, told CNBC in an interview, adding that its platform it is an “agnostic test”.

Certific says its service is “accessible” and “democratized”. However, Covid tests are already offered free in the UK through the National Health Service, funded by the state. Most things are centralized in Britain when it comes to health, with everything from ambulance rides to complex surgeries, all paid for with taxes.

Certific said it does not want to compete with the NHS, but “complement its efforts” and will provide all of its test data to NHS England. The company hopes its platform can play a role in the UK’s Test to Release scheme for international travel, as well as Test and Trace.

Immunity passports

Hinrikus first set out to address ways to respond to the pandemic with technology last year. A team of TransferWise engineers worked pro bono to develop so-called immunity passports to help people get back to work.

The idea was for someone to do an antibody test to show if they had recently contracted the virus and had some level of immunity. But experts have warned that these certificates are unethical, as it is not clear whether antibody tests confer immunity to reinfection, and there are fears that these virtual passes could infringe on people’s privacy.

“It turns out it was a dead end, as we still don’t know much about immunity,” said Hinrikus.

The next step for Certific would be to add the vaccination status of users to the application, now that safe and efficient coronavirus vaccines are being launched worldwide. This can pave the way for vaccine passports to prove that people have received the vaccine and go back to work and play.

“Certified testing is something that can play a big role,” said Hinrikus. “Obviously, this will need to be integrated with information about the vaccine and can be used in certain use cases, such as mass meetings and whatnot, where people who have been vaccinated or tested can go to them.”

But Kreindler does not like the term “immunity passport”, insisting that they should be called “vaccination certificates”. Regardless of what they are called, leading global companies are seeking vaccination passes to help lift restrictions on public life.

Certific is fully self-funded and Hinrikus says he put most of the money into getting the service up and running. Asked whether the company would accept venture capital financing in the future, TransferWise’s co-founder said he would only do so if “additional help” was needed to expand globally.

As for Hinrikus’ role at TransferWise, the executive said that for some time he has “gradually withdrawn” from day-to-day operations, but remains the president of the company. He says he has also actively participated in angel investments and other technology initiatives.