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Salv’s remarkable origin story: From Skype to Wise to global crime-fighting platform

A successful early career at Estonia’s two worldwide tech success stories — Skype and Wise (previously TransferWise) — gave Taavi Tamkivi, CEO of Salv, the experience necessary to create a financial crime-fighting platform that can scale globally.

Long before fintech was even a thing, Taavi Tamkivi — now CEO of Salv, a collaborative financial-crime-fighting fintech company — was using big data to spot patterns in digital credit card fraud at one of the early pioneers of fraud mitigation: Skype.

“Skype needed a ton of mathematicians and data scientists,” Tamkivi tells NFM, “and I somehow ended up becoming a data analyst in their anti-fraud team because I had studied applied mathematics and probability theory at university.” The aughts were the Wild West of internet credit card fraud. There was no such thing as “3D Secure” or “Verified by Visa” checks. The only thing fraudsters needed was a credit card number and, bingo, they had scored the jackpot — or free Skype credit.

“Originally, Skype knew nothing about this type of fraud until MasterCard called us and said, ‘We’re closing down your business if you don’t handle this,’” Tamkivi says. Although each transaction size itself was small, the number of transactions was enormous. This made tackling the problem challenging because the cost of tracing down a single fraudulent transaction was nowhere near the value of its return.

“What we did was use our huge data set — hundreds of millions of transactions — to determine patterns,” Tamkivi tells NFM. “There were huge amounts of data points to work with such as IP address, country, location, and so on.

My job was to discover the patterns, compare them to similar patterns, then feed them to an automated system that could stop the criminals.” This experience informed Tamkivi’s approach to fighting financial crime in all his future endeavours, including his time as head of compliance at early startup TransferWise, now Wise.

Both working at Skype and at Wise gave me the confidence necessary to know that we can scale Salv successfully.”

Taavi Tamkivi, CEO of Salv

Wise lessons

Tamkivi joined Wise in its early startup phase, when it had only about 50 employees. He was made head of compliance. At Wise, he had to deal with AML, KYC, and customer onboarding processes.

“At Skype, I had been one-dimensionally focused on stopping fraud and minimising loss,” he says. “At Wise, I was in charge of much more and saw the other side of the picture. It’s more important to keep the customer happy.”

Unfortunately, being compliant with regulations sometimes got in the way of customer satisfaction. It was Kristo Käärmann, one of Wise’s co-founders, who gave Tamkivi the insight he needed to solve this dilemma. “He told me, ‘What is the core aim of these regulations? What are they specifically trying to achieve?’”

When Tamkivi realised that their core aim was to make a safer world and to stop illicit money flows, it became a lot easier to interpret and follow them.

Wise’s meteoric growth — 50 to 1,000 employees in just four years — exposed Tamkivi to the world’s very many regulatory landscapes across the Americas, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Africa, and more. He began to see the differences and similarities between regimes, and always focused on the aim of those regulations to come up with solutions that benefited the user but which also stopped criminals, and kept the regulators happy.

Salv’s founders were there when Estonian startups Skype and (Transfer) Wise grew to global scale. Now they want to see Salv do the same.

From Wise to Data Miner to Salv

Tamkivi did not initially plan to leave Wise. He took a year of parental leave and, during that time, was approached by numerous close friends to help them with their own AML and compliance issues in their businesses.

He was happy to help them, and the deluge of requests convinced him that he might be able to start a small “hobby business” offering this same service on an advisory basis. The company’s name was Dataminer.

The “hobby business” grew and it soon became apparent that much of the time-consuming work they were doing could be automated. In 2019, when it became clearer that there might be a product being developed, Tamkivi brought in his ex-colleagues from Wise and Skype as co-founders — Jeff McClelland and Sergei Rumjantsev.

“Jeff has an awesome systematic approach and fantastic capability to explain things to people,” Tamkivi says warmly. “And Sergei had once been the lead on a KYC product we had to develop. I felt like I had created a small Dream Team.” And so Salv and the AML Platform were born.

Scaling globally

Salv’s two core products are AML Platform and AML Bridge.
AML Platform provides screening, monitoring, and risk assessment features. And AML Bridge lets financial institutions collaborate and share intelligence easily and compliantly to fight financial crime effectively. The two products are currently being used across 12 European countries.

Every bank in Estonia uses AML Bridge, as do many of the country’s fintechs. The banking association of another major unnamed country has now just accepted Salv’s RFP (Request for Proposal) and every bank in that country will soon be using AML Bridge as well.
Salv works with multiple networks in the UK. And many of their fintech clients are themselves customers of large correspondent banks.

Two specific benefits of using AML Bridge are particularly loved by customers:
Up to 50% reduction in successful APP (Authorised Push Payment) Fraud — the type of fraud where criminals convince consumers to make a direct payment into the criminal’s bank account.

Reduction of RFI (Request for Information) response time from over 24 hours to just minutes. This is especially important for banks needing information on sanction-related blocks of transfers.

“Both working at Skype and at Wise gave me the confidence necessary to know that we can scale Salv successfully,” Tamkivi says. “Skype handled one-third of the international phone calls back then, up from nothing, so why can’t AML Bridge someday be used by one-third of the global banks?”

R. Paulo Delgado
R. Paulo Delgado
R. Paulo Delgado is a freelance writer and ghostwriter specialising in finance, investment, fintech, crypto, business, entrepreneurship, and technology. He was a computer programmer for 17 years, with particular focus on the finance industry, until he switched roles and followed his passion to become a full-time writer. Since then, his business articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Moneyweb, Business Insider, and Forbes Councils. His clients have included representatives of CNN, the World Trade Center Gibraltar, and numerous tech startups across the globe.