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November 2013

Flexibility & Fraud Management: 8 Questions for Luke Taylor of Neural Technologies

Flexibility & Fraud Management Systems: 8 Questions for Luke Taylor of Neural Technologies

Fraud management in telecoms has gone through some dramatic changes in the last few years.  And much of the changes can be traced to the rise of mobile broadband.

We all know that virus protection is essential for protecting our PCs.  But are mobile phones any less vulnerable to attack?  Probably not.  In fact, the wide variety of mobile devices and their use as highly personal tools has made them inviting targets for fraudsters with their bag of identity theft, botnet, and IRSF tricks.

And yet, IP networks are so malleable and good at camouflage and identity spoofing that the question becomes: what threat do I prepare for next?

Clearly then, meeting today’s fraud threats is not just about technology, but also the speed of threat detection, the scanning of data outliers where the fraudsters live, and being enormously flexible in your investigation methods.

Well, Neural Technologies (Nt) is a company who has banked on its reputation on offering a more flexible fraud management product.  So we’re pleased to have Luke Taylor, CEO of Neural’s EMEA region, join us for a discussion on the importance of flexibility, his perspective on fraud management issues, and the direction where Nt is headed.

1 Dan Baker: Luke, the history of Neural Technologies testifies to the viability of fraud management solutions.  At your largest clients, you’re saving many millions of pounds per year.  Yet a number of telecom companies still don’t see fraud management systems as a necessity.  Why do you think this is so?

Luke Taylor: Dan, I think part of the reason is that the companies who are getting great value from fraud management are not eager to publicize it because admitting you are experiencing any fraud at all is considered a negative thing.  So there’s a big hush, hush around fraud.  Certainly no public corporation wants to admit they have been defrauded because it damages investor confidence.  It could also even hit the share price.

The same goes for consumer perception: who wants to do business with a company who’s a fraud risk?  So for all these reasons, fraud is always kept below the radar: in public financial reports, fraud is usually buried under the bad debt line item.

In my personal experience, only when fraud of great magnitude occurs — one that severely impacts consumers and revenue — do senior managers recognize the seriousness of the fraud management function.  Yet I am glad to say that recently this mentality has begun to change.  Today we work with CFOs who are well aware of what they need to do to achieve revenue protection.

2 If fraud management is necessary because the fraud threat will never disappear, what’s the proper role of the fraud management solution provider?

Our job is to ensure our tools identify fraud as quickly and as accurately as possible.  And that’s a bigger challenge today than it’s ever been because of the increased number of services being offered — subsidised handsets, roaming services, multiple devices, services from third party providers, mobile money, mobile banking, etc.

The risks that surround these services need to be identified and closed down rapidly to reduce financial exposure.  Liability towards roaming partners and third party providers means a major fraud hit could cripple a firm or ruin its reputation over a weekend.

A common liability is Bill Shock, a factor that hits consumer confidence.  Neural can analyse data in near-real time to identify unusual or possible high usage by a roaming subscriber and allow the service provider to either inform the user or throttle back usage.  We have even taken this one step further by developing a self-care portal for consumers to set up and manage their own roaming controls.

3 Fraud is constantly evolving, how is your product Minotaur designed to cope with this?

Minotaur was built with flexibility in mind, and this flexibility allows us to adapt and evolve the product with new services, new data sources, and new fraud/risk threats very quickly.  Our customers are not constrained by hard-coded product releases: they simply configure changes from the powerful user interface in the product.  In this way, their fraud policies can become proactive, not just reactive.  Many of our customers think outside of the box and use Minotaur in innovative ways — Mobile Money, Money Laundering, Law Enforcement, to name a few.

4 Neural Technologies‘ customer base in telecom is quite diverse.  Is this due to the high scalability of your product?

Scalability is certainly important to many of our customers.  Another thing customers like is that our solution is not domain specific.  We have deployed our system around the world from Alaska to New Zealand in three industries: Telecoms, Finance and Utilities.

Minotaur is designed as a generic data analysis tool that can take in a variety of data sources for analysis and then identify unusual activity, missing information, etc. to provide intelligence on fraud, revenue assurance, and credit risk.

5 What do you see as the next big thing in fraud, both from a fraud threat and solution vendor point of view?

Definitely, I think the new financial capabilities on the user device -- mobile money, banking, NFC, and others — open huge new opportunities for abuse.  The fraudster is always seeking the easiest path to quick gains and mobile financial services looks like a gold mine for them.

Ironically, our relationship with the fraudster is symbiotic: our business comes about because of the fraudster’s success.  We have already seen this mobile finance vulnerability as Nt was enlisted to protect Safaricom’s M-Pesa money transfer environment, currently the most developed mobile payment system in the world.

6 “Big Data” is a phrase that seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the moment?  What’s your opinion on the buzz term and its impact on the fraud industry?

We have been in the Big Data industry since our inception: we process billions of records a day with customers analysing this data for fraud threats, revenue assurance leaks, and customer delinquency.

Yet while Big Data is not new to us, we think complementary tools like Hadoop will be useful in allowing end users to interrogate large data quickly.  We are now investigating how we can best use this technology to processing large data volumes in near-real-time.  Nt is also exploring the off-line mining of that data and adding more analysis and investigation dimensions.

Our latest product, Minotaur Insight, takes big data analytics to a new level.  It basically allows for deep, unrestrained data analysis.  It has advanced visualization and you can interrogate and drill down on the data very flexibly for a particular understanding of the data being processed.  The User interface can be configured to allow individually tailored views of the data.  This has become increasingly important as customers use the interface across multiple departments: fraud, credit risk, revenue assurance, etc. — all using the one deployed system for their own unique needs.

7 In recent years we have seen many vendors fold out of the fraud software market.  Some would suggest the cause was failing to understand the needs of customers.  How real is that claim?

I think it is a combination of things.  As you say, vendors who do not listen intently enough to their customer’s needs cannot evolve with the Service Provider.

But also, fraud is also a moving target.  Once a particular type of fraud is adequately controlled, the fraudsters move on to more lucrative avenues.  This means to survive as a fraud management firm, you must constantly pour new R&D into your product.  Neural Technologies diversified away from simple fraud many years ago.  We now offer Fraud, Revenue Assurance and Credit Risk Management on one product and one user interface: I believe we are the only vendor who has this capability today.

Innovation is also key: to stay one step ahead of the industry we need to reduce the hardware expense, improve our performance, expand analysis capabilities, and boost user productivity.

Another vendor failing comes from stretching themselves too thin financially.  If debt gets too high, it puts pressure on your R&D budget because you need to pay off your investors.  Other vendors have ceased business entirely or have been sold in a distressed sale.

Fortunately, we  have been careful to not over-stretch ourselves, but instead have grown the Nt business organically — and through selective acquisitions  As a result, our customers feel comfortable working with us as a long term partner for the foreseeable future.  Actually, some of our first customers who purchased Minotaur in 2000 are still with us and have grown their solution through our product development.

8 Finally, Luke, what’s the future outlook for Neural Technologies?

At Neural Technologies, we are very upbeat about the future.  We are building on our experience and knowledge from over 15 years in the telecoms industry.

Much of our growth comes from our flexible product design that allows the customer to fully configure the product on their own.  That flexibility and the ability to achieve things without hard coding has even allowed us to win a number of awards for undertaking large and complex projects

Finally, we are optimistic about new product offerings coming in areas such as Mobile Money Remittance, Self Help provisioning, etc.  We also see our number of cloud-based offerings increasing because customers like the idea of having a fully managed service to lower their CAPEX expenditure.

NOTE: Are you a product manager or expert whose solution serves the business assurance or telecom analytics market?  Then contact Black Swan’s editor Dan Baker to explore conducting a similar Q&A interview.

Copyright 2013 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Expert

Luke Taylor

Luke Taylor

Luke is a seasoned business executive with a deep knowledge of telecoms fraud management and business assurance from his 20 years in the industry working for a risk management software vendor.

He founded Lateral Alliances in 2017 to offer business management and consultancy services focused in the IT sector and specifically telecoms risk management.

Luke has also established his own not-for-profit awards body, Risk Reward Awards with the goal of recognizing the best work done by risk professionals in the telecoms sector.   Contact Luke via

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