September 14, 2021 Interview

Preventative, not Reactive


Anna Sainsbury, chairman and co-founder of fraud prevention and cybersecurity company GeoComply, explains to Carl Friedmann how maintaining a healthy sense of perspective amid potential, risk and reward is vital to long-term growth.

How is the threat landscape evolving, especially with sports betting gaining steam in many states, and how are you able to keep pace with it?

We’re so fortunate to have so much tremendous growth in our industry across all markets and within new ones opening up as well. But what we’ve seen when we look at location data is that the more states considering a bill, or looking into the possibilities of holding our industry accountable to different compliance requirements, there’s still a lot of consideration around location compliance and ensuring that bets aren’t placed beyond state borders. So we spend a lot of time looking at new ways that users are mitigating different geolocation barriers as the industry, and general people on the internet, gain more of an understanding of how to manipulate their location data because they’re streaming a lot of television content, which is the primary educator for the general population on how to get around geolocation. We spend a lot of time looking at that and make sure we’re well ahead of trends and fraudsters with a compliance-grade solution. But then we also sink our teeth into other areas of fraud where we can see collusion, account sharing, stolen credit cards, stolen identity or anything that goes into money laundering. So we examine all the data and transactions, what we can expect and how we can work more with different platform providers and operators to make sure we’re identifying fraud before it becomes a problem. That’s been really interesting since there’s a lot of new markets out there and people who are potentially making sports wagers outside the US with operators based in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the world. And we’re also seeing so many amazing bonuses being marketed, and that obviously attracts a group that might be more interested in bonus abuse, so we work with our clients, regulators and platforms to ensure that’s not going to be a problem in our industry. It’s been a really interesting time for our fraud and analytics team.


I can imagine there’s never a dull moment. Are you encouraged with the momentum building, and the appetite increasing, for sports betting in the US?

The US is this amazing platform for us all to look at. Even though we have mature markets, the expectations of what we can do are at the highest of what we’ve seen so far here in the US. The regulators are really interested in the weeds and they’re looking at the data and working with us to see what we can do better to create that robustness that this market needs because there’s been a lot of scrutiny in the past, so I think that everyone is working together where they can to see what we can do better and not just maintain the status quo, even if other industries do; there’s a lot of fraud in airline ticket sales and in some markets, it’s just seen as a cost of doing business. But in our market, we’re saying we can do better, we can take accountability for this and come back with something better and I think what we already see in the geolocation space is that other industries are taking the improvements that the gaming industry has brought and are looking to transfer those data insights and improvements in fraud into their sector. So I think that’s a great thing to see.


Leading by example as an industry is certainly beneficial in that regard. But can you describe how important it is with you and your team, especially considering the year of extremes we’ve just gone through?

I think that’s everything in every year. Being true to your word is really important especially for your team and your clients and customers. There has to be an authenticity these days and I feel that if you’re doing something for the wrong reasons, it’s not going to be successful in the long term. You might get some momentum at the beginning but you’re not really going to arrive anywhere. So for us, it’s the most important thing, especially as we look to recruit; someone who has that drive and that activist within them who wants something better, that we’re not just turning the pages of a book in the hopes of getting to the end one day. 


Just building on that, it’s clear that it’s also important to have a team around you that’s grounded in order to navigate unprecedented disruption and uncertainty, as well as to recognize opportunity.

Grounded is definitely required, but the other thing we really look for is someone who’s looking ahead. There are so many opportunities for technology but if you’re able to recognize a success and certain numbers are achieved in the industry, and all these brands want to get in and we’re marketing and hitting targets, you have to know what the positive and negative consequences of that are going to be and what can be done to mitigate that now. Anyone who has developed technology today knows you have to plan for it. You can’t just come out and realize there’s a problem and presume a solution is there. It takes thought, time, testing and development, and in our industry, where there is that level of compliance and accuracy, we can’t just push out releases all the time. We aim to be thoughtful and forward thinking, and that’s what we really look for in our team. We want to be steps ahead and work out problems that might surface.


Speaking also of leading by example, GeoComply is a serial winner for Responsible Business at the GGA Awards. Can you describe your holistic approach to management and leadership that has enabled the company to be recognized as not only a groundbreaker in CSR year after year, but a model for others to emulate?

It means so much for us to be even known for this. It’s really a driver not just for myself but for the entire team. People want to work at a company not just for a paycheck but to see how we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves. So if we can do that and get paid and develop interesting technology, then I feel that’s a homerun. We’ve really focused on where can we do better and areas that are underfunded or maybe don’t get the attention, especially in growth markets, which is really where we spend our time. So it’s been really wonderful to get involved into responsible gaming, for instance, because we want to give back to the people who participate in our industry; those players that are attracted to what we have to offer but to also give that support and helping hand to those who might have had some detrimental effects from the industry. That’s been really interesting to work on and I think there’s so much more that technology can do these days  to help not only support people who are already downstream  of having some effects, but to actually help people before because now we have this bigger player pool that we really want to nurture. After all, they’re players, clients and people we need in order to be successful. So as we hone our skills as an industry, I think a lot of operators, forward-thinking platform providers and regulators are saying we need to focus on this, so we really want to bring to that conversation what technology can do and how can we facilitate ease of responsible gaming and make it less of a hurdle for the person looking to potentially self exclude. But we also want to support the operators too. So it’s been really fulfilling for our team and we’ve had the pleasure of getting exposure into other sectors where our technology can be insightful, which keeps us all engaged.


Can you tell us about a pivotal experience in your career you can draw a direct line from where you are today?

I feel like an activist inside. I spend a lot of time working on the conversation of human trafficking and child exploitation and what can regulations do to mitigate that negative consequence  of the internet, which is a positive thing for so many in our daily lives. I’ve always been attracted to that underdog and what makes someone or something an underdog, and what we can do to better support them. I have been that myself. I have struggled, especially in my youth, with depression and have felt that lack of support, but I ultimately know that it’s the community around you that gives you something to lean on when you need it. So I know that in myself. I didn’t have anything very terrible happen to me, which I’m grateful for, but I’m aware of how much everybody needs support and that we have to look out for someone who might suffer negative effects from something.

And with anything positive or experiencing growth, there’s always something or someone who might not receive all the benefits we hoped. So that has drawn me to the place where I am now. Once you start and meet other people who find these other problems that are underfunded, it’s so fulfilling and I feel that it grows. There’s an abundance of issues and wonderful things in our world and it keeps us busy and keeps us thinking. 


How would you summarize GeoComply’s place in what the UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation calls “the gaming ecosystem”?

We’re very thankful that we have thought leadership at UNLV and I think International Gaming Institute executive director Bo Bernhard especially has been a great contributor sending out the message, especially in the US market, to what gaming provides, especially to the city of Las Vegas.

For us to even have our name considered as a contributor to the ecosystem and to be there not only enables a comfort level within the regulators but also gives that protection to operators and platform providers. It’s an honor for us and something we take very seriously within our company. We really work to make sure we don’t let anyone down and that we can fulfil those needs as they come up. Hopefully, we’ll also be thinking 10 steps ahead with them and planning for the future.

This market is obviously very exciting and there’s a lot of talk about our growth and how many new markets will come up, but as we think about that as an industry, it’s important to look at how we can scale all of our solutions, as well as our teams and technologies to meet these market demands. Not only how can we do that, but improve on what we’re already doing.

It’s a big ask and I think there’s a lot of interesting people in the space right now who are providing thought leadership and making sure we not just meet but exceed demands of what regulators and players are looking for from our industry.