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Richard Prior: The industry as it was back then was very different to the way it is today. It was less professionally defined – there were very few operating standards that determined the quality of the work that was done and also the ethical and underpinning of the work. So it was a fairly wild marketplace and thoroughly unregulated.
We wanted to define ourselves in opposition to the existing operating standards because we wanted to service our client base which was predominantly made up of large corporates and highly respectable businesses, that nevertheless required investigative services but needed to be confident that those services would be delivered in a fully legally and ethically, compliant manner.
We were one of a very small number of businesses that were making that proposition to the marketplace – who were promising their clients that we would conduct ourselves in a thoroughly upright and legally compliant manner – and in doing that, we kind of put clear blue water between us and the investigations industry.
Bill Waite: We believe that there was room in the market to create a professional risk management consultancy. It meant being open, honest and transparent about what we could do to support our clients’ needs; how we would do it; what it would cost and what value we could add to our clients, and recruiting people who would be able to provide the relevant skills.
Our goal was never to build the biggest risk management consultancy. Our goal has always been to build a leading risk management consultancy, which is highly regarded and retains important large-scale clients.
Walter Courage: Our values are the same today as they were back then but the company has developed. The market has encouraged us to develop because at the start, we were a business intelligence and corporate investigations business but now, we’ve developed into a company which gives advice to clients at a much higher level. Our strategic intelligence offering covers lots of different aspects of doing business for companies that worry about establishing their business in new markets, combining the geopolitical context with what’s happening on the ground.
Walter Courage: The real value is the brilliance of the people we’ve got – they’re so bright, they think outside the box. We’re really lucky that we’ve got such good people – that’s the backbone of the company and that’s what’s kept our strong reputation, they’re the key, it’s a complete and utter people business.
Bill Waite: Originally our work was driven primarily by commercial considerations; are these the right people to do business with? Can they deliver on what they say they’re going to deliver on? What’s their management style? Over the last 25 years that’s evolved significantly, where clients come to us with worries about reputational and regulatory risk, not just the leadership, but the reputation of the business itself.
Richard Prior: The world was relatively unregulated back then in the 1990s… companies didn’t have that kind of imperative put on them by the regulators and I think the client’s demands changed largely because they started to have external pressure on them, and it probably really started to build up momentum at the back end of the 1990s, just after we incorporated Risk Advisory. American companies started to feel the pressure, not only from the SEC but also from the US Department of Justice and they started to feel the pressure to ensure that they were complying with anti-corruption legislation like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Clients needed to ensure they were conducting themselves in a way that minimised any potential exposure to corruption risk. All of this started to build up momentum in the 2000s, in part it was driven by the increase in international terrorist activity. So there were money laundering laws that were introduced and reinforced in the United States and in Europe and other jurisdictions as well. Banks started to pay much more attention to financial flows – where the money came from, where they gained their wealth from and generally, whether or not they knew enough about the people that they were doing business with.
We’ve had to evolve too. There’s been a huge upsurge in the amount of data that’s available in the world – we had to educate ourselves very rapidly on the growth of the online data world so that we could provide our clients with the ability to be able to access that data and also manage the data. In a way the amount of data that became available presented another problem – you needed to have skills to manage it, not just to extract it but to reduce it down to a kind of manageable amount of end product, something that the client could understand and interpret and apply in a meaningful way… so that changed how we worked.
Walter Courage: The business achievement I am most proud of is having a really good reputation in the market and worldwide. My definition of success is to have a thriving growing company.
Richard Prior: The achievement that I’m most proud of is that we helped to redefine the sector in which we operate, and we took the industry from being a kind of private detective scenario into mainstream consulting. Previously, it wasn’t necessarily known as the business intelligence sector, it was known as private investigations and we changed it into something which was mainstream and not only accepted, but valued as an important part of, corporate decision-making and corporate deals.
Bill Waite: Our definition of success is evident in the fact that we’re still here after 25 years and we still have a large number of clients that we had on day one. It’s frankly a remarkable achievement for a small business in London to secure major multinational clients across financial services, private equity houses, manufacturing, and fast-moving consumer goods sectors. All of that is a testament to the people who work within the business.
Walter Courage: On a macro level it’s political risks. Political unrest affects businesses. There are also regulatory risks, and the sophistication of crops and criminals – the tools that are available to them. By that, I mean artificial intelligence and the advance in technology, the ‘unseen risks’. When people abuse this new technology it will become a threat to businesses… and I think as a company we are constantly thinking about what are the new risks, and working out a way of helping our clients overcome them… and that’s what strategic intelligence is.
Chris Rowley: Our founders saw a gap in the market to provide clients who were seeking to play by the rules with really professionally sourced and professionally delivered insights, who their counterparties were etc. and that was the early days of the FCPA.
Circumstances may change, such as geopolitical business risks and events that are going on around the world, but there’s also clearly an increasing regulatory burden on businesses to ensure that they understand exactly how their products are being made, where they source their materials, and every aspect of their production line. The way in which companies go about doing this work really does matter.
We’ve evolved in terms of knowledge and access we have to information, but what hasn’t changed is our commitment to transparency. It doesn’t matter what you instruct us to do; we will bring that ethos to whatever we tackle. The circumstances may change, so, it might not be an anti-corruption matter, it might be understanding our Chinese supply chain and whether or not there’s any kind of forced labour in that supply chain. But the principles about the way we go about doing our work, the way that we deal with our clients and the way that we price and value our work, those principles will see us through I hope in the next 25 years because they’re not going to go out of fashion.
Chris Rowley: Every company in our sector, frankly every company around the world, is probably grappling with how to turn AI into some kind of asset. I don’t think it is this monster that’s going to come along and wreck our business or wreck the sector… There’s sort of a dichotomy in our sector and at one end, sit a load of businesses that automate a lot of what they do and typically they until now have been low cost providers that run quite a formula process relying on scanning media databases etc. But that is not us at all, our business relies on human intelligence – so well-placed contacts of ours in far from parts of the world who have a very specific vantage point on a particular issue, and if anything, I think AI is going to push the divide between the bottom end of the market to the top end of the market, where people are trying to make really significant, decisions about their business that could have really lasting implications and where absolutely cast iron, reliable intelligence, that’s been sourced from people matters a lot. So I think that AI will force down the prices and automate the processes at the bottom end of the market soon – if indeed it hasn’t already started doing so and I think it will extend the gap between the bottom and the top end of the market.
We’re confident that we can see a route where it doesn’t cannibalise our business, but instead adds to it and I hope that we’ll be able to go to market with that next year, but there’s clearly a complementary piece. There are some things that AI can do that are extremely helpful but we don’t think it is indeed ever going to become a replacement for really high quality locally sourced intelligence from our networks but I think probably that’s the clear and present threat/opportunity.
Chris Rowley: Essentially, my job is to make sure that it’s still viable in 25 years time. If you look back 25 years and see all of the changes that have happened and the impact that’s had on our business. Whether we like it or not, there is a lot of change ahead – some of that is change you can see on the news but there are other factors here like AI. My job is to make sure that we address the ones that we can address, and that we’re in the right shape to deal with surprises when they crop up.
“My job is to make sure that the quality that we’re known for in the market continues… in 25 years time, somebody else, not me, will be sitting here and celebrating 50 years of Risk Advisory… and I’ll be in the background somewhere cheering them on.”
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