After ringing in the new year, metro Atlanta-based DataSeers is wasting no time getting started on its resolutions.
Just in the last two months, it has checked off two major milestones: graduating from the Tech Alpharetta incubator in December, followed by gaining recognition in January as one of the Technology Association of Georgia’s 40 most innovative firms.
But even at this early and hectic stage, its next big move is expanding its footprint in Asia, despite that fact that it has just eight employees at home.
The financial technology firm, which provides a reconciliation, analytics and fraud-prevention engine (FinanSeer) for mainly for banks and processors of prepaid payments, held a grand opening on a new 2,000-square-foot Alpharetta office last week and is set to launch a physical presence in Mumbai, India, in early February.
That mainly means a business development executive and a few coders in a new office that will be around the same size as its U.S. counterpart in Alpharetta, though CEO and founder Adwait Joshi, an India native, admits that it will be a bit more crowded when it reaches full strength.
Mr. Joshi believes his “platform as a service” is tailor-made for the fast-moving India market, where digitization and demonetization drives have driven the rapid uptake of prepaid solutions like digital wallet Paytm, fueling banks’ desire to keep up.
That became evident when he joined an Atlanta fintech delegation to Singapore last year. He saw it as a $4,000 getaway, with the remote possibility that something would click — and it did, more than he could have imagined.
Even as a young, bootstrapped company founded in 2017 that is already mildly profitable, it made sense to make the move now — not to outrun his growth runway but to lengthen it.
“The boat is being built right now. You can get a suite on it if you get there at the right time — or you’re going to miss it. Why would you pass on that opportunity?”
Fraud Concerns in the Prepaid Space
Faster payment methods smooth commerce, but they also create the opportunity for fraud, and that’s even more true in the prepaid space than in credit or debit cards, where chips have removed some of the security threat and detecting anomalous activity is a science.
Prepaid is just different: Most fraud on stored-value cards and apps doesn’t come in the form of outright theft. It comes when the bad guys exploit little gaps in the way that systems are designed, Mr. Joshi explains.
“It’s more offline fraud than online fraud — or ‘out of line’ fraud is what I call it,” he says. “The problem that we see is an identity problem — me getting a card with someone else’s name on it, and because prepaid does not do a credit check, you would never know that there is a card out there with your name on it. You would never find it on any report.”
Those looking to launder money for drugs or human trafficking mix multiple methods when they move money, and they see cash as a liability. They can go undetected if they open an account based on a fake identity and use a card within the rules set out by the issuer. Those rules are so disparate for the many different types of prepaid manifestations — grocery and gas cards, gift cards on various networks, even transportation cards like MARTA Breeze cards or Peach Passes — that it’s hard for banks and processors to stay ahead of the curve.
The DataSeers “appliance” takes in all the data — network, bank and acquirer information — and reconciles every transaction, then analyzes everything with artificial intelligence and machine learning to find patterns.
“You can call it a sifter. We actually look for the dirt that is in the water. As the water goes through and all these particles are going through, our system’s job is to separate them out and let the clean transactions through,” Mr. Joshi said.
But not so much in real-time, an area where many other companies are focusing their efforts. DataSeers distinguishes itself by providing predictive analytics. That means that even if a faulty transaction does go through, the pattern of behavior it generates becomes a cautionary tale in a “distributed ledger,” helping strengthen the product for the entire network of customers into the future.
“We said, let’s take a different approach: Instead of stopping you from doing this transaction, can I actually predict that you’re going to do a bad transaction ahead of time? There is more value in that. It’s antivirus versus intrusion prevention.”
Another big problem for prepaid cards, he says, is double redemption: where fraudsters trick the system into removing the value before it can recognize that the card has been activated. Confused, the bank’s system assigns the value a second time.
“The fraud models that are out there are rules-based, which means they are watching for patterns that they know of. That means you’re assuming that your employees are smarter than the fraudsters, which is not always the case,” Mr. Joshi said.
As digital banks continue to rise, enabled by prepaid cards, and more companies like Venmo in the U.S. and massive Asian firms like Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s Alipay make money off micro payments, they need better visibility into ever tinier transactions. Venmo itself disclosed in November that its $40 million loss was partly due to a greater incidence of fraud on the PayPal-owned instant transfer app.
That plays well for DataSeers, which sees itself helping community banks compete with much bigger firms. Without having as many worries on the compliance side, they can sign up new processors and onboard them more quickly, boosting revenues.
Why Go Global?
Mr. Joshi doesn’t see his India ambitions as adventurism. He hails from there and sees massive potential both there and beyond, in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia and other countries with large populations being brought into the financial system with a different speed and route than the U.S. His platform is scalable via a partnership with data provider LexisNexis, so growth is only limited by sales, he says.
“We don’t have to change our product. It is built for what is happening over there. We would be stupid not to go there. It’s not that we are taking our whole dog-and-pony show over there. We are being invited,” Mr. Joshi says.
Decisions are made faster in Asia as well, so while a deal may be twice as big in the U.S., it could take twice as long to realize. Mr. Joshi plans for the India operation to be self-sufficient by the end of 2019. Interviews for a local executive are ongoing.
“I wouldn’t surprised in 2019 if the Asia market gives us more revenue than the U.S. market.”
Learn more at www.dataseers.ai.