June 4, 2020

Date nights in living rooms instead of chic restaurants. Birthday celebrations over video conferencing. Movies premiering on streaming services rather than theatres. A lot has changed since the beginning of the year, even down to the way people run errands — or rather, don’t.

For instance, instead of going to the bank to deposit a check, consumers are now taking to apps more than ever to do their finances: Since the end of 2019, mobile banking has risen by 50 percent, according to Mobile Payments Today. 

Payfone, a digital identity verification company that works with banks and fintech, healthcare, insurance and retail companies, has also reported seeing massive spikes in traffic on mobile apps as a result of the pandemic. But while users turn to contactless solutions to avoid in-person interactions, the company said another kind of risk is emerging.

“We’ve heard about increases in scams from a lot of banks and insurance companies,” said Payfone’s CTO Greg Bonin. “Scammers are trying to prey on older Americans because maybe this is the first time they're trying to use a mobile app. These scammers will try to get them to download the wrong app or get their login information.”

With decreased in-person transactions, it’s become even more crucial for companies to be able to identify if their users are actually who they say they are. But that can bring with it new issues: As call center traffic has increased, many companies can’t keep up with the volume of calls due to pandemic-related staffing issues, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal. Customers’ queries have gone delayed, and in some cases, unanswered. 

Now, companies are finding that it’s no longer enough to secure their users — they have to find a way to be quick, too. 

Heidi Warshauer, director of customer success at Payfone, said the company has been able to solve the issue: Using existing tools, the company was able to spin up a solution in about two days that would rapidly authenticate callers, allowing Payfone’s banking, insurance and tech customers to take the pressure off their overloaded call centers. 

In a conversation with Built In Colorado, Bonin, along with Warshauer, explained the importance of authentication during a pandemic and how the company has been able to respond to global changes. 

“People’s daily life has changed so much,” Warshauer said. “But really, our business has always been to make the online process easy and to make interacting with different institutions as seamless as possible.” 

 

 

How is Payfone handling the customer experience during the pandemic? What’s shifted since this began?

Warshauer: When we see a pattern that comes up with one of our customers, we want to share that experience with other customers to make sure that they don’t have to go through the same struggles. As a team and as a company, we’ve really been using our network of contacts and making sure that we’re reaching out across the board to help solve problems customers are experiencing and helping them identify issues. We feel like we can really be a leader in how to handle some of the chaos that is going on in the industry right now.

Bonin: The interesting thing about working in fraud is that it’s not competitive among companies. It’s unlike say, credit policy, where companies are hesitant to share what they’re doing with their competitors. We help sponsor some industry groups where customers can talk to each other and share their strategies because everyone sees fraud as a drag on the system. 

 

WHY FRAUD IS ‘A DRAG’

According to the Federal Trade Commission, phishing scams are on the rise. Bad actors have seized on the global crisis to launch email campaigns and websites that appear to be selling COVID-19 related necessities, like medical treatment or masks. In fact, these scams are designed to collect sensitive financial and medical data from concerned people looking for answers.  

 

Payfone helps authenticate users. How have you leveraged your tech to help out with the lengthy wait times call centers have seen since the rise of COVID-19?

Bonin: Call centers need to figure out if the people calling are really their customers. It’s even harder now because they can’t staff people in those contact centers because of COVID-19. So we’ve been helping a lot of our clients figure out improved ways of authenticating their clients. For example, if I call my bank and it seems that I’m calling from my phone number or my wife’s phone number, they don’t need to ask me a whole bunch of security questions. I don’t need to talk to a real person — I can self-service and won’t contribute to the long lines. 

Warshauer: We can help our customers take a snapshot of their customer base and update their information. It’s a one-time data dump for our customers, instead of them looking up their customer phone numbers in real-time inquiries. Maybe they’re not quite ready to do a full-blown implementation, but we can help them out as quickly as possible by doing this one-time file exchange to make sure they have the correct information about their customers. This expedites the process and makes it as painless as possible. 

 

 

That phone number snapshot wasn’t an existing tool. How did your teams work together to get that built so quickly?

Bonin: At the beginning, it wasn't obvious that the batch file for call centers was something we were going to need. That was a direct example of Heidi and her team’s feedback. We had no technical resources to implement a new API — that’s a six-month process and we needed an answer fast. 

The engineering team said they had a product that could solve this. Because we’re mainly an API company, we do system-to-system integrations that are all automated, and there’s been a need for a lot of batch processing in the short term. So we developed some extra processes for this customer batch solution that’s privacy-preserving and can lead to a quick turnaround. It was more about scaling up that product that already existed rather than inventing something totally new.
 

We feel like we can really be a leader in how to handle some of the chaos that is going on in the industry right now.” 


What role will identity authentication play in a post-pandemic world? 

Bonin: These attacks are only going to get more prevalent over time. An interesting product we’ve had in the works for a while deals with SIM swapping, which impacts crypto companies and banks. A lot of these companies allow you to have multi-factor authentication as protection, where they’ll send an SMS to verify who you are. But if someone steals your phone, they can get into whatever they want. There need to be ways to stop that upfront, and we have some ideas about how to work with carriers and the government to solve some of those issues.

Warshauer: I think about my parents who are logging into their apps for everything now. Before the pandemic, that never happened. They’re just an example, but I think people will forever have new behaviors like that. If anything, the pandemic has given customers an idea of the solutions that we can provide. 

Some of those solutions are things our customers have wanted to do for some time, but maybe they didn’t have the budget or the resources. Now that things are shifting, they are more likely to prioritize these projects to get them implemented quickly. These solutions may be temporary now, but they could become long term.

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