Confluent co-founder Neha Narkhede today announced a new fintech company, Oscilar, that’s developing an “AI-driven” platform to help financial institutions protect online transactions from fraud and theft.
Oscilar is entirely self-funded, backed by $20 million that Narkhede and the company’s other co-founder, Sachin Kulkarni, themselves contributed. Narkhede says they opted not to take outside funding so that they could “quickly build and scale the company” as it launches publicly.
“Sachin and I were at companies with some of the world’s top engineering talent, yet both of us were confounded by how cumbersome and, frankly, ineffective the prevailing risk decisioning technology was,” Narkhede told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Convinced that fraud and risk decisioning technology requires an overhaul, we have been working under the radar for the past two years to build a company to address this problem.”
Prior to co-founding Oscilar, Kulkarni was a senior engineering director at Facebook, where he led the division that helped to build Facebook’s internal private cloud. Meanwhile, Narkhede, besides co-launching Confluent, was a LinkedIn executive overseeing the network’s efforts scale its data pipeline.
With Oscilar, Narkhede and Kulkarni sought to address what they characterize as a “dramatic increase” in online transaction fraud risk for companies. The pandemic further accelerated the explosion in online transactions over the past decade, they note, leading to a corresponding uptick in fraud, credit and insurance risk.
To their point, more people are using digital payments tech than ever before, with a 2022 survey from The World Bank finding that two-thirds of adults worldwide now make or receive a digital payment. At the same time, risk has indeed increased. Juniper Research expects that online payment fraud losses will eclipse $200 billion by 2025.
Of course, Oscilar is far from the first to attempt to tackle the massive problem of payments risk. Nivelo recently launched with $2.5 million in seed funding for its platform that protects ACH transactions. Sardine has nabbed $51.5 million to develop anomaly-detecting tech for fintech payments. Other players in the space include Fraugster, Bouncer (which Stripe acquired in 2021) and Hawk AI, the last of which marketed its products specifically toward banks.
But Narkhede argues that many of the platforms out there don’t cut it.
“Most companies’ investments in fraud and risk protection haven’t kept pace with the proliferation of online transactions,” Narkhede said. “In a nutshell, existing technologies rely on incomplete and outdated information about user behavior.”
What makes Oscilar different, Narkhede says, is the platform’s heavy reliance on AI and machine learning. But not just any AI — Narkhede claims that Oscilar’s AI, developed in-house, requires much less first- and third-party data about past fraud incidents from customers to train machine learning models.
“We integrate aggregated anonymous risk signals from across our network of customers into our machine learning models, [and] our machine learning models are continuously trained and tested,” Narkhede explained. “This process is fast since we have automated the feedback loop that updates our models. As a result, they automatically get smarter over time.”
Oscilar also offers a toolkit risk operations teams can use to create new risk models, test them, monitor and deploy the models without having to write code. This frees these teams up from having to depend on engineers for intervention and technical support, Narkhede says.
“With Oscilar, our customers have visibility into the model and determine all the parameters and data that go into the model,” she continued. “In fact, as part of our onboarding process, we take customer data and feed it into the model to make sure it’s working properly and that we’re not introducing biases. Oscilar has people in the loop throughout the process and share the results with the company to ensure performance is good and that the model is working properly.”
Given the competition in the fraud defense space, Oscilar definitely has its work cut out for it. Funding might prove to be a challenge, too — particularly given the recent high-profile bank failures. According to CrunchBase, Venture investment into fintech companies in 2022 reached $81 billion as of December 2022, which was down 41% from the peak of 2021 at $137 billion.
But in what could be a positive sign, potentially, Narkhede claims that Oscilar is already working with “dozens” of fintech customers.
“We’ve quietly brought in dozens of engineers with decades of experience from Facebook, Google, Uber and Confluent who have deep expertise in building highly scalable AI driven data systems,” she said. “The public launch of Oscilar allows us to engage with an even broader array of potential customers and partners.”