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11/28/2017 | Episode 11

A Fintech Navigates the World of Fraud

Curve is a London-based fintech startup that’s out to revolutionize the way we make payments. But new technology creates a wealth of opportunity for consumers and fraudsters alike. How does a small team prevent -- and fight -- new and innovative types of fraud? We sit down with Rona Ruthen, head of operations at Curve, to talk about the collision of fraud and fintech.


Roxanna “Evan” Ramzipoor is a content marketing manager at Sift. Her debut novel The Ventriloquists will be released in 2019.


Evan: Welcome to Trust & Safety in Numbers presented by Sift Science. I’m your host Evan Ramzipoor. Here today with Rona Ruthen, Head of Operations at Curve. Anyone who’s ever fumbled through their wallet or purse in a checkout line searching for the right credit or debit card which is inevitably under that Safeway card you’re not even using anymore? Anyone who’s ever been stuck in that situation can probably relate to the desire to have just one card or app that you can use to make transactions. This where Curve comes in. Curve is a fintech company based in London that’s set out to revolutionize how we make payments. I’m sitting down today with Rona to learn about the fraud challenges and opportunities a company like Curve faces. But first, let’s warm up with a quick fraud fact. Did you know that this holiday season Amazon is projected to account for 34% of all e-commerce sales? That’s about $28.5 billion, which is about $5.5 billion more than they made last year. For more surprising stats about holiday e-commerce and mobile commerce, check out the “12 Stats of Christmas” on the Sift Science blog. Now onto the interview. Tell me a little bit about yourself, what do you do and what does Curve do?

Rona: Okay. Hi, and thanks for having me. I’m Rona. I’m Head of Operations at Curve. I’ll explain a little bit about what we do at Curve and then a bit about what I do at Curve. Curve simplifies the way people spend, see, and save money. In the past few years, there’s been an explosion of financial services and fintechs replacing and compensating for our banking needs and experiences. And while that’s a very positive change with the potential of adding a lot of value for customers, it also created a very complex and fragmenting markets. There are so many cards, and accounts, and services, and apps, and it’s very time-consuming and confusing to find the right one for you, to go through the signup and onboarding process for each one, and to keep track of all your financial world. And that’s what we set up to solve.

So, Curve started as a better way to pay. We created a smart Mastercard with a smart app which allows you to combine all your favorite debit and credit cards into one. It has an added layer of security, better customer experience like real-time notification, and we’re now starting a series of integrations to create a connected financial world for every customer. And what I do, so I’m Head of Operations and I’m responsible for our customer experience team, fraud, compliance, card fulfilment, projects with our core partners, and few other bits and pieces. And that also includes preparing all of these aspects of the company for scale.

Evan: Cool. So, Curve is a startup so it’s a relatively small operation. But even large companies often struggle to fight fraud. So, what are the challenges of fighting fraud with even fewer resources than a larger company like Facebook or Google?

Rona: So, I think if I had to put it in one sentence, it all comes down to balancing a seamless and delightful customer experience with robust fraud prevention. As a new fintech company, we’re very customer-focused and we try to recreate this amazing experience with new features and new products all the time. And we try to make good customers feel like there is no fraud in the world and we try to make fraudsters feel like all we do is fight them. And we’re doing it with a team of three. And that’s a challenge both in terms of the size of our fraud team, the robustness of our system, the resources we can allocate to fighting fraud, and the fact that the product keeps changing.

Evan: In some ways does the fact that you’re a smaller company give you an advantage? Like does your fraud-fighting team find it easier to quickly adapt to changes in the fraud landscape?

Rona: Yeah, I think there’s definitely an advantage to being a small and agile company. And I think our integration with Sift is actually a great example of that. We partially implemented Sift, this was quite a few months back, to try it out before actually making a decision on our main frauds prevention tool. And while we were sort of playing around with it, we got hit by quite a substantial fraud attack and we had to quickly find solutions. And that actually meant that we implemented Sift within one weekend. We went to a full integration and stopping transactions in real time. And as well as a few other controls that we put in place. And that worked really well. That’s a good example of how we move quickly when we need to and that allows a lot of flexibility in how we do things.

Evan: Speaking of such, how does a company like Curve go about choosing a fraud prevention solution?

Rona: So, what we usually do, we usually review several providers, we define our requirements for the near-term and the mid-term, we get references to similar companies like us, not every solution is fit for a small fintech rather than merchants or bigger companies. And we go through quite a process. As I mentioned, Sift was a bit special in that aspect. We also take into account the size, our customer base at the moment and what we expect it to be over time and that keeps changing obviously. And that’s how we decide on the tools and the right resources to allocate for fighting fraud.

Evan: Kind of building on that, how do you go about building up your fraud and abuse teams? What do you look for in fraud analysts for example?

Rona: So when we’re looking for fraud analysts, we obviously look for relevant experience. So, anyone that’s been working in this space and had been fighting fraud for a while, that’s always a good thing, but more importantly, I think it’s about the mindset and the passion. So, being generally interested in identifying and understanding the typologies, finding creative ways to stop these fraudsters, and getting really angry when they manage to get through. So, proving that it’s a personal thing. And I also think that’s really well connected with the mindset that’s required for working in a startup. So, being very open to change, open to having to do new things all the time, deal with new experiences and adapting quickly. And that’s true for any role in a company like ours and definitely when fighting fraud.

Evan: What is it like fighting fraud in the context of the fintech ecosystem in London?

Rona: It’s a great ecosystem for fighting fraud. It’s very acceptable here to talk to other fraud-fighting teams, to meet other people from teams in other fintechs, and to just share challenges and share the experiences that we have. A great example of that is the FFE. So, in January this year, the Fintech Financial Crime Exchange was established by FINTRAIL and RUSI. And it’s a group of over 30 fintechs from London. We meet on a monthly basis. We discuss typologies, challenges, we discuss how to fight them, how to stop them and it’s already proven to be very helpful as it really feels like we’re fighting the same sort of fraud groups and we all see the same scenarios.

Evan: And last question, what challenges are specific to the fintech space? Are there specific trends that your fraud teams are seeing but the fraud teams outside fintech probably aren’t seeing?

Rona: Generally, I think the challenges are quite similar to other industries. We see stolen cards, and merchant fraud, and refund fraud, and all that fun stuff. But I think what makes fintech fraud a bit special is how focused fraudsters are at hitting fintechs in the very early stages. They really look around waiting for new fintechs to come up. They attack early on. They know that we don’t have robust systems there in the early days and they know to adapt quickly to any control that’s put in place. So I think there’s a real focus in that which makes it especially challenging. The good thing is that fintechs are very agile and quick to adapt as well.

Evan: Thanks for joining us on Trust & Safety in Numbers. Until next time, stay vigilant, fraud fighters.

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