Fraud management is like learning to ride a bike, seriously!

fraud management learnng to ride a bike
Learning to ride a bike. Photo by MNStudio

I’ve recently taught my son to ride his bike. It’s taken most of lockdown, but we got there in the end – and whilst it was much more of an investment than the ‘5 minutes’ promised by the YouTube video from which I took my teaching inspiration, as I reflect on the experience, I spotted a lot of parallels with elements of fraud management.

1. Take a lead from someone else

This is the first time I’ve needed to teach someone to ride a bike. I won’t lie, I didn’t really know the best way to go about it. It’s also quite a while since I’ve ridden a bike myself. Fortunately I am a strong believer of the adage you never forget how to ride a bike. But I’ve never had to convey the process to a cocky five year old who lacks confidence in much that’s asked of him. We tried using a device (see the long handle attached to the rear wheel in the picture) to support him but he didn’t like it – so it was at this point I turned to the ‘experts’ on YouTube.

Being able to see how others have tackled this challenge was key to his learning – I was able to watch a couple of videos and select a technique that I thought would resonate with my son the most. It’s quite rare in fraud that you come across a problem that others haven’t encountered or solved before – never be afraid to reach out to your network and seek their views and help with a fraud challenge.

2. Find a way to communicate the messages you need

The technique selected involved standing opposite my son who was sat on the bike. I would hold the front wheel between my legs and explain that we would let the bike drop to the right, and when it leaned that way, he needed to move his foot from the pedal to the floor (if he wanted to avoid falling off!). We repeated the process to the left, and then again without knowing necessarily which way the bike would fall.

This was key to building his confidence and was a demonstrable way of proving to him that nothing bad would happen if he had a wobble – one of the things that he was scared of most. I would go through this process every time we attempted to get him to learn to ride – in effect, if he tried and ever lost control, he just needed to stick his foot out.

Whether it’s a business case you need approving for new controls, or a message you need to communicate to consumers, it’s vital that you find a way of communicating effectively – take the time to think before you right about what will work for your audience.

3. Safety first and plan for different eventualities

A helmet is a must. It’s non-negotiable if he wants to ride his bike. I got some elbow and knee pads (an earlier attempt to reassure him that he couldn’t hurt himself) but they didn’t fit well, so we managed without. I tried the long-handled device to give him a safety net, but it didn’t work for us. I was never far away from him, so I could grab hold of the bike if needs be – I did – a lot! We tried cycling on grass, but it was harder work to get going, so we moved back to the road.

In fraud, it’s imperative to layer your defences. We all know that fraudsters react to the walls put in their path, so layering is vital for an enduring level of protection. I took all the measures that I thought were necessary to keep my boy safe, and I can report that he didn’t fall off once, collect one cut or bruise, and remains unscathed. But he knows how to react if ever he does – stick out his foot. How will you ‘stick out your foot’ if a fraud attempt is successful? Have you prepared in advance for it? Do you know which foot you’ll stick out? What are your safety nets? And who’s on hand to grab you, if you need it?

4. Learning to use the brakes

Once he’d mastered staying upright and pedalling at the same time, he needed to learn how to stop (other than letting himself roll to a natural stop, or just plonking his feet on the floor!). He quickly figured out the brake levers and so was able to apply them in a sensible and controlled way. He also determined that if he felt unsure, perhaps from going too fast, if he applied the brakes it was easier to regain balance, comfort and confidence.

Sometimes in fraud management it might not be feasible to stop completely – how often are you able to stop the sale of a product or prevent a service from operating? You simply can’t because the impact on your good customers would be too great, or it’s just not commercially viable. In these circumstances, applying the brakes and slowing losses or incidents down is good enough – it gives you the breathing space you need to adapt your defences and regain your control.

5. Dealing with bumps

Having learned to ride his bike and going out on his bike every day for a week or so, my son decided to expand his repertoire. Apparently cycling around, stopping, not falling over and keeping his balance weren’t enough. Therefore, he decided he needed to be able to go down curbs (something he’d seen an older neighbour do quite a lot!).

The first attempt wasn’t with a big audience, and definitely not in front of the neighbours. It was a solitary and slow, but steady, attempt. Of course he dropped down from the pavement onto the road with no problems at all, and now this has become part of his cycling routine.

The parallel with fraud management I find here is that sometimes when trying new things, you don’t want to go all in, or with a large audience. Test it first and build your confidence. Give yourself the chance to make changes if necessary before you commit.

Of course, there were other bumps to deal with along the way. Hissy fits (his, not mine, honest!), tears (again, his!), disappointment, frustration and feelings of resentment almost, with a strong dose of willingness to give it up and stop trying. But with the right encouragement (and incentive – a toy from his wish list) he kept getting back on the bike. And he kept trying (the bike and my patience). But when it clicked, it clicked – and as I’ve told him, he doesn’t ever need to learn to ride a bike again.

6. Satisfaction and gratification

I am proud not only of my son’s achievement, but mine also. Just as he had been eager to stop and give it up, I wanted too as well, on many occasions. But we didn’t. And now he can ride his bike quite well, even if I do say so myself.

Wins in fraud management can sometimes feel rare, but we persevere. Please, celebrate the wins. Tell your teams you’re proud of them, and thank them for their efforts. You never know what they might be trying to learn on that particular day – you might just give them the boost they need to nail it.

By Andrew Mayo, Senior Group Fraud Manager at Vodafone Group Services, a passionate fraud management professional.

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