Think the life of a vice president of analytics is all about the numbers? Think again. There’s data, to be sure — reams of it. But in an interview with PYMNTS, Massy Najafi, who serves in that role at Guardian Analytics, shed light on more than a few other aspects of the job. There’s interaction with marketing and customer service teams, an eagle eye on data fraud — oh, and no small amount of effort devoted to innovation.
PYMNTS: What does a day in the life of a VP at Guardian Analytics look like?
MN: My daily activities are split between current, in-market products and new emerging solutions. On the existing products, I spend a significant amount of time with our product, marketing and customer support teams getting involved in a variety of ongoing projects to address issues related to deployment, performance validation and customer success.
A portion of my daily routine also involves talking to our existing/potential customers and partners, understanding their perspectives on product usage, addressing their questions and exploring new opportunities. On new solutions, I spend time in fundamental research analyzing new market trends, topics and use cases and exploring how to develop innovative technologies to expand into those areas.
PYMNTS: How would you define your company’s approach to innovation?
MN: Our innovation agenda derives from our objective, which is to help banking institutions offer payment solutions to their customers and enterprises who provide self-service operations to suppliers through a web portal or mobile apps to be able to detect and stop suspicious activities as soon as possible. We target the shortest possible time to deployment for our new customers.
Obviously, technology innovation is the core piece, but we innovate in other aspects as well. For example, our Fraud Desk department is a business model innovation we came up with to help customers who need to augment their fraud operations that go beyond our models/products. We put a lot of thought and innovation into our product design to make sure our end users (fraud analysts or fraud managers) are productive, efficient and have a delightful user experience.
PYMNTS: Where do you look for innovative ideas, and why?
MN: We look at a wide range of sources for innovative ideas, from listening closely to our customers to learning from our consulting and implementation partners to following industry experts to drawing lessons from other startups and companies in other verticals, including the B2C world. All these sources represent unique perspectives from which we can draw inspiration to transform our products, processes and services.
PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?
MN: We are a pioneer in applying behavioral analytics in the fraud and security space. In the past, fraud detection problems were approached as a standard classification problem that had limited effectiveness due to the dynamic nature of fraud, which involves adversaries who continuously change their tactics and employ cutting-edge technologies to stay under the radar.
We recognized these unique market characteristics early and decided to switch the focus from fraudsters to users; and instead of figuring out the bad guys’ patterns/tactics, we focused on users and developed technologies to learn and predict their behavioral patterns in a probabilistic fashion. Then, whenever a newly observed pattern was not consistent with the expected pattern, we would act on it. This approach vaccinated us against any new strategy or tactic that might be used by fraudsters and put us one step ahead in the game.
This fundamental shift in approaching and tackling the problem has established us as the clear market leader in the fraud prevention [and cybersecurity] space.
PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?
MN: We live in a very fast-paced, dynamic market environment in which new technologies, industries and startups, etc., emerge at a much faster pace compared to even five to 10 years ago. Having more time would help me to stay [better] informed on these new developments and work that into [the] product development process.
PYMNTS: What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in payments?
MN: I think many people underestimate the fact that in payments (or, more generally, in the financial industry), there are existing legacy systems and infrastructure rigidly in place, developed over years, and difficult to disrupt.
There is no doubt that in recent years, many innovations have occurred in the payments industry, such as P2P transfer, digital wallets, etc., but behind the scenes, the reality is most of these startups are plugging themselves into the existing system/infrastructure in the backend. Hence, they’re more ... front-end enhancements or additive features rather than being true disrupters or game changers.
PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most in the payments solutions space?
MN: As a security company, our main concern is how well our customers are protected against new financial [cybercrime] threats. There’s a lot of innovation taking place in the payments industry, but these innovations come with new types of vulnerabilities. Products and services are now so integrated across institutions that it makes it easier for fraudsters to open a hole in one place and create a fraudulent transaction in another place. For us, the main question is how we can better protect our customers from these new threats in such a way that [it] doesn’t affect their business.
PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?
MN: There are several key developments that we are monitoring closely. There is a global demand and initiative for faster payments. We already see new capabilities, such as Same Day ACH. At the same time, banks have a strong desire to provide a smoother and more frictionless customer experience without compromising security. For example, we see a trend toward employing more intelligence in multi-factor authentication (MFA), leading to conditions that reduce the number of triggers.
We are also paying close attention to cryptocurrencies (e.g. bitcoin) and blockchain-based developments. We believe there are significant opportunities in these new technologies [that] have the potential to transform our business.
PYMNTS: What product has had the most impact on payments in the last five years, and why?
MN: There is no doubt that the smartphone, mobile payments and related products have opened a new chapter in the payments industry. The convenience, efficiency and personalization embedded in such products is unparalleled, and it has also created exciting opportunities for employing data modeling and behavioral analytics for mobile payments use cases.
PYMNTS: How do you think the company will change in five years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
MN: We are moving up from a fraud detection solution provider to an integrated platform that covers all aspects of financial crime. Banks and enterprises are moving toward more and more interconnectedness and [possess a] unified view across different channels (money transferring, customer services, etc). This new dynamic requires different kinds of technology and products for monitoring and security purposes. On the one hand, banks no longer want to have a separate point solution for every channel with [a] dedicated monitoring staff. On the other hand, fraudsters are taking advantage of multichannel strategies to better stay under the radar. All these require new technologies that analyze the observed behavior from different channels and provide a global perspective/view to the user.
In addition, we do not want to be just an integrator of our own point solutions. We want to open our platform to other point solution providers, let them integrate our platform and have their uncovered signal/insight used by our global algorithms to better serve our customers.