Developers of fraud prevention software have to walk a fine line: they must stop genuine fraud from taking place, without causing too much disruption and loss of revenue. Few players manage to strike this balance. Cambridge-based enterprise financial crime buster, Featurespace, with its real-time Adaptive Behavioral Analytics (which it invented) software, has achieved worldwide acclaim for doing just that. “Before we arrived into the market, fraud systems were unable to accurately differentiate between genuine transactions and fraud attack,” says Martina King, chief executive of Featurespace. “Our system uses machine learning for the real-time identification of anomalous behaviour. We outsmart the risk.”
The business boasts HSBC, NatWest, TSYS, Worldpay and some of the world’s biggest banks and insurers as customers. In recent years, it has also diversified into money laundering prevention. “Analysts must investigate every single alert,” says King. “By improving accuracy and reducing the number of alerts, we are having a dramatic impact.”
Featurespace’s current growth rate is 624%. The business recently raised £30m to help sustain this growth rate, taking its total investment to date to more than £80m. It now employs 320 people across Cambridge, Singapore and Atlanta. Talent is vital in the war against financial crime, says King. “People today want to work on society’s important challenges. That has helped us attract brilliant people.”
Featurespace was started in 2005 by Cambridge University professor, Bill Fitzgerald, and his PhD student, the Australian maths prodigy David Excell. The pair applied Bayesian mathematical principles to datasets, creating the underlying architecture that powers Featurespace to this day.
Sadly, Professor Fitzgerald died of a brain tumour in 2014. King, who joined the business as CEO in 2012, is determined to honour his legacy. “Before he died, Bill told me to make this a great commercial success,” she says. “To this day, I keep that at the forefront of my mind in my day-to-day work. I think Bill would be really proud of our achievements.”
King is currently on her third career, she reveals. “My first was in media. I ran commercial teams at The Guardian for 10 years. Then I became managing director at Capital Radio before moving to Yahoo, where I ran the European business.” Her second career was as a serial non-executive director, advising companies from across the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250. Her third career was running augmented reality business, Aurasma, where she was introduced to Professor Fitzgerald. “Featurespace is the crowning glory of my career,” says King. “I have applied everything I’ve learned throughout my life to this business.”
King credits her ambition and drive to her upbringing. “I am the eldest child from an immigrant family,” she says. “I just can’t help myself. Whether it’s building a display advertising business for The Guardian, or rebuilding Yahoo after the dotcom bubble burst, or commercialising machine learning – and using it to do good in the world – I love a mission.”