It is sometimes said that there is no gain without risk. But just how great is the risk involved in any given business context, in a world where there are so many factors in operation? Laura Hamilton, Head of Intelligence Consulting at Falanx Assynt, gives us some background.
Could you give us some general background on Falanx Assynt, and on your specific role in the company?
Falanx Assynt is a geopolitical risk and strategic intelligence consultancy, headquartered in London with employees located globally, many of whom are embedded analysts within client companies.
My role as Head of Intelligence Consulting is to look after any of our bespoke projects that do not have a solely geopolitical focus. These projects involve carrying out and instructing human source enquiries, public records and open-source research, before analysing the findings and reporting them in a format that meets the client’s requirements. We work with clients across a range of sectors, helping them with everything from enhanced due diligence to asset tracing, new market entry to understanding a subject’s source of wealth, litigation support and numerous other in-depth research requests.
Your work relies on examining historical data, and your assessments of reputational risks are only as reliable as the data you have access to. Are there any geographical areas or fields of activity where it is particularly challenging to get reliable data?
The information available varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, both in terms of availability and reliability. I think the key is an understanding of what is available and how to find it, which is what consultancies like Falanx Assynt can offer. While I do not think there are any specific jurisdictions to single out where it is particularly challenging to get reliable data, there are areas where understanding the political context is key to understanding data reliability – for example, understanding if media are censored by the state or funded by the government and therefore potentially unlikely to publish anything positive about opponents. This is crucial when it comes to understanding whether, for example, any corruption allegations you uncover are valid or are instead part of a potential effort to discredit the subject.
Has the pandemic situation caused any specific difficulties for your company in conducting its business?
Thankfully, we have been able to make a smooth transition to operating remotely, having always had team members located across a number of jurisdictions. When it comes to our project work specifically, it has just meant we have had to add in some additional time for accessing public records which are only available in person. However, varying timeframes is something we have always been conscious of and we have ensured that our clients know this remains the case, especially now that we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This enables us to set the right client expectations from the outset, so we are able to not just deliver but, where possible, exceed the requirements in a reasonable timeframe.
In the light of experience to date in coping with the pandemic, do you think there are lessons to be learned for business in the future, particularly with regard to prediction and planning?
I think that, while it would have been very difficult to predict the situation we find ourselves in regarding the pandemic, predictions about the areas you operate in are nonetheless key to helping you mitigate potential risks. I also think businesses need to be more aware about the potential reputational risks they face, both from carrying out due diligence on partners, clients and potential investments, as well as through ongoing assessment of where their exposure might lie. It seems many businesses have adapted well to the pandemic; however, being proactive rather than reactive is key, where possible. It is also important to ensure that plans are in place to mitigate a variety of scenarios which might arise and that are within their control, whilst also ensuring business continuity.
Do you see a danger that business might be so preoccupied with reacting to COVID that leaders may be taking their eye off the ball in other areas?
I think if anything it has made business leaders more aware of how quickly something can impact their business and therefore made them more conscious about mitigating the risks that are controllable, such as trying to avoid reputational damage and understanding their exposure to potential impacts in the jurisdictions that they operate. Furthermore, since COVID-19 has had such an impact on all sectors globally, leaders must now deal with both the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing business challenges simultaneously, with strong leaders being able to tackle them well.
The pandemic is naturally seen as being very much in the category of threat’ for businesses. However, do you see any aspect of opportunity that business leaders could take advantage of?
I am a natural optimist and so while I think it is important to acknowledge how tough this scenario is in so many ways and give credit to everyone who is just trying to manage in these difficult times, there is always some good and positivity to be found as well. While the pandemic has been a threat to many sectors and businesses, I am in awe of those individuals and companies who have demonstrated such adaptability in the face of adversity, pivoting and changing to different industries, or ways of delivering their services or goods. The shift to more environmentally friendly methods of operating, more trust in companies where all staff have been forced to work remotely, and the innovation that has come out of some really tough spaces is something that business leaders could take advantage of. Trust, innovation, and resilience are key to business success, all of which can be found in abundance at the moment.
Some studies suggest that women in intelligence are under-represented, as well as being lower-paid than their male counterparts. How would you say your industry compares with others in this regard, and are you optimistic for the future?
I think the industry is changing and I am really fortunate to work in a company with mainly women here at Falanx Assynt. I do think there is a shift in this traditional pattern and that the industry is becoming more diverse in terms of gender, but there is long way to go. I am on the leadership team of Women in International Security (WIIS) UK, which is a great place to see how many excellent women there are across numerous related fields. I am also really optimistic for the future – I work with some excellent more-junior members of staff, and I have also had a few opportunities to speak to new graduates and current students recently. I am in awe of how intelligent, articulate, and driven they all are, so I have a lot of hope for the next generation of women in my field. I cannot wait to see what progress they make!
What would your advice be to women starting out on a career in general, and in your industry in particular?
I stumbled across my industry, so I would recommend that any woman interested in finding out more about the strategic or geopolitical intelligence field – or whatever sector she is interested in joining – reach out to people she knows, as well as those she does not, who are in the industry she is interested in joining and ask them how they got there. The key is to also weave your story together well in applications. I have taken a less than linear path to get to where I am, as I didn’t start out in the intelligence sector, so if you find yourself in that position, make sure to explain why you are the perfect fit for the role. I would treat everything as a building block to help you get there, find areas in your career to date which align with the job role and emphasise those qualities, which will make it easy for the hiring manager to see the value you will bring to the role and the company at large. Finally, the worst anyone can say is no (or ignore you); neither of those reflects on your capabilities, but you do not know unless you try, so go for it. That would be my main advice!
For more tips on how financial businesses can become more resilient, particularly those operating in complex jurisdictions, access my top five tips for gathering intelligence when litigating in unfamiliar markets. “Guide to accessing credible Intelligence” http://bit.ly/30ZhbI9
Laura Hamilton – Head of Intelligence Consulting – joined Falanx Assynt in May 2019 and is responsible for managing both strategic intelligence and political and security risk projects. She has four years’ previous experience in the corporate investigations sector, having begun her career as a legal markets analyst before working in the international communications team for a FTSE 100 retailer. Laura holds an MA in War Studies (Conflict, Security & Development) and a BA in Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies, both from King’s College London. She is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, with elementary knowledge of French and Arabic, and has regional experience in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Laura also recently joined the leadership team of the UK branch of Women in International Security (WIIS), a network for women working on international security issues.