B2B Payments

Whitepages Pro Spins Out, Becomes Ekata

Whitepages Pro is playing the long game when it comes to payments, with a series of structural changes separating consumer and B2B operations, and a new name to boot. CEO Rob Eleveld explains what’s behind Ekata, and what lies ahead.

In sports (and life, really), playing the long game is critical — with an eye on what happens next. To quote the hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “Skate where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.”

For businesses that operate within the payments ecosystem, playing the long game also means, on occasion, retooling — proactively. In payments, the long game is one of speed (a marathon toward a sprint?), of digitization, of making sure consumers are who they say they are, when they say they are, no matter where they are, in increasingly automated fashion.

To that end, Whitepages Pro announced a series of corporate maneuvers to rebrand the company, and change its corporate structure, while keeping digital identity verification as a global focus.

The company noted in a press release on Wednesday (June 12) that it is spinning off its B2B business from its U.S.-focused direct-to-consumer (DTC) operations tied to Whitepages.com. In tandem with the move, Whitepages Pro is changing the name of its business to Ekata to better differentiate the global B2B application program interfaces (APIs) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools on offer from these now independently operating units.

Beyond the spin-off and name change comes some brick-and-mortar evolution and regional focus, as the firm opened a new headquarters in Amsterdam earlier this year, focused on sales and marketing efforts.

As Ekata CEO Rob Eleveld told Karen Webster in an interview, “There was a time when there were three business units. Now, we’ll have three separate companies, each able to focus better and run their own [strategies].”

He noted, too, that the businesses, including the B2B operations, had traditionally been funded by the DTC side of the firm. However, each of the units under the (former) Whitepages umbrella are now large enough to stand on their own.

In terms of differences, Eleveld said, technology and end-market focus have fostered clean lines between the units. Ekata is focused on a global customer base, where 75 percent to 80 percent of revenue is API-driven. The consumer business, he noted, is driven by web user experience (UX) or mobile apps. Data sourcing and networks are also different across operations.

Post-spinoff, he noted, there are no plans to seek outside capital at this point, and the newly rebranded company has been growing at more than 50 percent a year. He said the company would be run somewhat conservatively, without the mindset of “blow-torching through capital to try and grow at 90 percent a year.”

The Broader Landscape — And Looking Ahead

Regardless of the market served, the spin-off, tech stacks and trends underpinning Ekata’s changes are inexorable and global in scope, driven in part by PSD2 mandates. As Eleveld explained, and as detailed in this space previously, the eCommerce ecosystem is slowly embracing a “pre-authorization” model when it comes to payments, with an eye on making sure “good transactions” get through.

Of eCommerce, done increasingly cross-border, and where delivery windows get shorter and shorter (Amazon, of course, has debuted one-day delivery), Eleveld said, “We live in a world that is marked by immediate gratification. Everything getting faster is part of that,” including faster decisioning, which smooths the customer journey at checkout. For faster decisioning, verification with speed becomes paramount.

Manual review, he noted, will still be in the cards. Yet, within a few years, as much as 80 percent to 85 percent of transactions will be passed through pre-authorization. The remaining 15 percent to 20 percent of transactions will fall into somewhat of a “gray area” that needs more analysis, where 5 percent may require manual review.

“There’ll be more precision in your decisioning,” he told Webster.

Ekata’s Engine

To get that precision, Eleveld pointed to the Ekata Identity Engine (EIE), built on the Connected IGA stack and leveraging proprietary ingestion, generation and acceleration (IGA) processes to enable a single global endpoint. The EIE differentiates Ekata from industry peers by providing a continuum of cross-border ID verification services and risk products in one place.

The EIE features Ekata’s customer network, a proprietary data source — which links billions of anonymized, hashed elements in real time, and through machine learning algorithms, to find predictable patterns, and to separate “good” customers from fraudsters. Additionally, through the company’s global identity graph, other key data sources within the EIE corroborate and link between names, emails, addresses, phone numbers and IPs to identify the human behind a digital transaction.

“There’s no way to source all of those elements together in one country, let alone a region like the EU or Asia-Pacific,” said Eleveld. “You have to generally source one element at a time — either address or email or whatever — and piece it together yourself.”

Eleveld told Webster that Ekata’s Connected IGA stack delivers predictive attributes to eCommerce customers in less than 100 milliseconds, enabling rapid decisioning through the derivation of a confidence score and other modeled elements, the third tier of the engine.

Beyond PSD2, he noted, payment service providers (PSPs), such as Stripe and Adyen, are increasingly moving to help eCommerce companies combat fraud. Generally speaking, PSPs understand pre-authorization, and have been bundling fraud tools into gateways and other offerings, which should lead to increased adoption of Ekata’s offerings.

“We say it all the time internally that we play the long game,” said Eleveld. “We play the long game with our customers, we play the long game with our partners, we play the long game with our products and strategy — and I think they all appreciate that consistency and focus.”

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