Getting Buy-in for a Trust & Safety Team

When meeting with companies, I often get asked about what it means to have a trust and safety team. Should I have a trust and safety team? How do I get buy-in to build this kind of team? These questions (and more) come from companies of all sizes, industries, and ages.

Last time, I covered “Why have a Trust and Safety Team?” This week, we’re going to talk about how to get buy-in to build out your team.  

Fighting Fraud at Scale

Several years ago, I took a 20% project when I was working at Google. (I was allowed to spend 20% of my time working on something different than my day-to-day role but that would benefit the company.) It was on the Trust & Safety (T&S) team, and my objective was simple: keep fraudsters off the platform. As I began to dig in, I uncovered more and more vulnerabilities in our systems that needed to be resolved. I enjoyed the work, found it challenging, and was able to see my tangible impact on users and Google; so I dove deeper into the abyss. Soon, I found myself spending 40%, 80% and then 120% of my time on it. This wasn’t sustainable. We needed to grow.

The reason why I could spend more and more time on T&S issues was because I had the numbers to back me up. I was saving 7X my annual salary in fraud losses. Our chargeback rates were at our desired levels. My manager would not have let me or anyone else on his team increase the amount of time we spent on T&S if we didn’t have this rationale in the first place. However, achieving these metrics alone wasn’t enough to get additional resources and people to join the team. I needed more.

Having a Conversation about Buy-In

I began talking with various product managers (PMs). I tried to understand what products they were working on and what features they were looking to bring to life. As I continued to probe, I would occasionally ask about how they planned to address certain abuse cases on their platform. They didn’t want to get their product to get abused (who does?), but they didn’t have the adversarial mindset to envision different types of malicious activity.   

I was also met with a fair bit of pushback from the PMs. It was the old “we’re focused on growth” argument. “Stopping abuse on the platform is like priority 10 for us. We wanna grow first.”

Knowing that I wasn’t going to get much farther down that path, so I decided to switch methods and say things like, “We both know that this product is going to get abused in this particular way, which will ultimately hinder the user experience. No one wants that to happen. What if you could use our team’s tools and ops team to handle that type of abuse on your product?”

More Fraud-Fighting, Less Burden

This evolved into a different type of conversation. PMs now wanted to work with us so they could improve user experience (and growth) without putting too much additional burden on their engineering resources. Plus, they didn’t have to worry about staffing or training additional ops people. My team of T&S experts could take this on.

As a side note, taking on new abuse types was really beneficial for individuals on the team. By gaining experience with new types of abuse, they could expand their knowledge and skillset in the space.      

Now I had some pieces to work with. I had the underlying data/chargeback metrics to support growing the team and had identified a demand from PMs who wanted to use our tools, services, and people to improve their product. I brought this back to my manager and was eventually given the green light to further build out the team.  

The Metrics are on Your Side

This is just one example of a time when I was able to get buy-in to grow the team. If you’re looking to do something similar, chances are the metrics are already on your side. Continue to explore and report on those, but also look to your peers across the company to support you and your team as you build a safer environment for both your company and your customers.

Next time, we’ll cover how to build your Trust and Safety team to help ensure that you’re able to scale to fight a variety of abuses in a sustainable fashion.  

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Kevin Lee

Kevin is the Trust and Safety Architect at Sift Science. Building high-performing teams and systems to combat malicious behavior are what drive him. Prior to Sift, Kevin worked as a manager at Facebook, Square, and Google in various risk, spam, and trust and safety roles.