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The global rise of Featurespace: CEO Martina King tells how its AI fraud prevention technology adapted amid the pandemic



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When the pandemic hit and lockdowns were imposed, consumer behaviour changed overnight.

While many fraud prevention systems struggled to cope with the rapid switch to all purchases being made online, Featurespace’s self-learning models shined, swiftly understanding these new patterns.

Martina King, Featurespace CEO, with Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Julie Spence at the presentation of the company's Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade. Picture: Featurespace
Martina King, Featurespace CEO, with Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Julie Spence at the presentation of the company's Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade. Picture: Featurespace

It is this sophistication in the face of change – and, indeed, ever-growing efforts by cyber criminals to break through defences – that has helped Featurespace’s success spiral this year.

The Cambridge Science Park-based company has secured 68 customers and is now generating more revenue in the US than the company did as a whole in 2018.

Little wonder it secured the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade earlier this year, a prize that was finally able to be presented in-person last Thursday by the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence.

“It’s been a great day,” Featurespace CEO Martina King told the Cambridge Independent. “We hosted a lunch for all of our team members here in the UK. We have moved into our office on Cambridge Science Park, which we took in March 2020. Today was the first day that we were able to have the whole team into the office, for what was such a great event.”

The Queen’s Award – the company’s second – acknowledges the global rise of Featurespace since it span out of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering in 2008, formed in by the late Professor Bill Fitzgerald with his PhD student, Dave Excell, who is now responsible for the growth and operation of the business across the Americas and oversees the global product strategy.

Featurespace interview with Martina King, Broers Building, Hauser Forum, 21 JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Featurespace interview with Martina King, Broers Building, Hauser Forum, 21 JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Our head office is in Cambridge and we have offices in London, Atlanta in the US, Singapore and Israel,” said Martina.

“We have team members working in multiple states in the US and we’ve got team members in Portugal, Spain, Australia and Thailand.

“We have a really international customer base – 76 per cent of this year’s revenue was outside the UK, with 46 per cent from the Americas.

“Our customers are based in 20 countries and we have monitoring transactions in over 120 countries. We have doubled the number of countries we are serving in three years.”

The company’s fraud prevention and anti-money laundering software monitors real-time customer data, using proprietary machine learning technology, adaptive behavioral analytics and automated deep behavioral networks.

Its ARIC Risk Hub provides financial institutions with a single customer view across the entire payment journey, predicting individual behavior in real time and automatically recalculating risk, despite shifts in data flows.

It came into its own when lockdowns were imposed.

Martina King, CEO of Featurespace, receives the Queen's Award from Lord Lieutenant Julie Spence. Picture: Featurespace
Martina King, CEO of Featurespace, receives the Queen's Award from Lord Lieutenant Julie Spence. Picture: Featurespace

“Ours has proven to be the only technology globally that adapts and learns to a new data flow without people having to intervene,” said Martina. “A good example of that would be in card scoring, where all of the data changed on March 23, 2020, from being a mixture of card present and card not present, to being all card not present, because everyone was transacting from home.

“All other companies had to retrain their machine learning models on the new dataset, but because ours are self-learning, our technology was really stress-tested and in a very short period of time had retrained and was able to provide protection to the level we offer.

“Our consumers and companies were protected faster than with anyone else.”

And that’s just as well, as Covid-19 also unleashed a cybercrime epidemic.

“Scams have increased dramatically during the pandemic,” notes Martina. “Criminals have taken advantage of fear during the Covid pandemic. Having technology that’s working behind the scenes trying to protect consumers from financial crime has been essential.”

It has helped Featurespace secure new clients this year such as eftpos, the Australian debit card payment system, a large Irish financial services company, a major Nigerian payments and switch services provider, and multiple banks across the US and Europe.

“We have two different routes and customer bases – indirect, where companies white-label our technology and have a fraud system enhanced by their own customers and data. A good example of that would be WorldPay or TSYS, on the merchant side and card issuing side. And then banks directly use our systems to protect payments across the whole of the bank transaction process,” explains Martina.

Cyber crime has grown during the pandemic
Cyber crime has grown during the pandemic

“The installation depends on the complexity of the customer. If it is an organisation with very modern technology, they can take our software and install it themselves and be up and running in days.

“Depending on how complex their data environment is, that could become weeks but if it is a huge enterprise organisation that wants our software to protect say all payments across a bank, then those installations could take months.”

Featurespace now employs 400 people, half of whom are in Cambridge, where it also has room for expansion at its new headquarters. It continues to recruit software engineers and data scientists, along with support workers, project managers and others.

“We are bringing back our internship scheme and reintroducing our graduate recruitment scheme as well,” notes Martina.

The company has just appointed British Army veteran Will Anderson as chief communications and marketing officer.

He is a former senior vice president of corporate affairs and brand at Careem, the ‘super app’ for the wider Middle East region, and a former partner at Brunswick Group, the global strategic communications advisory firm.

“Will brings experience of managing a brand in a rapidly growing, multinational tech company and his qualities of strategic thinking, planning rigour, cultural empathy and thoughtful, creative execution will prove critical in helping us reach more customers globally, and further Featurespace’s reputation as a technology leader and a force for good,” said Martina.

Featurespace’s technology detects fraud in real-time
Featurespace’s technology detects fraud in real-time

The company is firmly in favour of wider education of the risks for consumers.

“Criminals prey on fear and make people react really quickly and stop them from pausing and thinking,” says Martina. “We want to be at the forefront of helping our customers and consumers become educated about the tactics criminals would use to con them out of their money.

“The more aware people are, the better protected they are. Today, many people are aware and if they see a certain type of email, they delete it and won’t respond at all. That is the easiest way to stop the crime in many ways.

“But it is really hard, particularly for banks, to ensure that their commercial customers as well as consumers are always alert to these types of criminal activity. That’s why they spend huge amounts of time using technology to protect their customers and their own organisation.”

For the coming year, Martina says Featurespace’s primary focus is “continuing to delight our customers”.

“When we made the promise to our industry, we said we would always try to ensure we brought them the best technology to solve fraud and financial crime and we remain on path with our innovation and our heritage in Cambridge to continue to do that,” she says.

“The other part of the promise was to ensure we give exemplary service and that we are always on their side and we understood their challenges.

“As we scale, as long as we continue to do those two things to the absolute best of our ability, then Featurespace will continue to grow.”

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