GTInterviews is a series of conversations with our community of industry experts - from our network partners and clients through to our own team. We discuss what brings people to the world of due diligence and investigations and how they see the industry changing in the coming years. This month we chatted with our Knowledge Manager, George Porter.
What is your professional background?
My first role out of university was at a call centre for a global money transfer app. I joined their anti- fraud and compliance team and quickly became interested in the stories bad actors spin to achieve their nefarious ends. After a couple of years, I transitioned to the FinTech sector and joined the KYC team at Plum, an investment app. As the app grew, I found myself deeply immersed in anti-fraud measures, regulatory compliance and had to collaborate closely with regulatory bodies like the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Although this may not be the typical career path of an English Literature graduate, I was still analysing a story, just told through someone's account activity. Later, I moved into a managerial role at a start-up called Ikigai Money where I built a successful AML program from the ground up.
Tell us a bit about your role at GTI.
As the Knowledge and Training Manager at Ground Truth Intelligence, my role is to monitor global transparency developments as well as overseeing training initiatives for our Network Partners. By creating guides and learning resources, I help our partners expand their knowledge and better support our clients. I work with people across the business but have a close collaboration with our product team, specifically in relation to AI integration with more traditional information gathering techniques.
How do you see AI impacting the due diligence and investigations industry?
I'm certainly a proponent of leveraging AI to streamline inefficient processes and amplify people's skillsets. We've already witnessed the gradual integration of machine learning into screening processes like adverse media and politically exposed person checks. Current screening systems typically generate an abundance of results that necessitate manual review. Leveraging AI could remove this arduous and repetitive task by narrowing down the potential matches.
However, when it relates to nuanced decision making and insight there is no replacement for the human element. In terms of the global push towards supply chain transparency and ESG compliance, AI could be helpful for low risk cases. As to the high risk cases and opaque jurisdictions, there is no substitution for experienced boots on the ground.
How do you keep up to date with changing legislation and industry news?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer when it comes to staying up to date with evolving legislation. As it’s a crucial aspect of my role, I dedicate a portion of my day to reviewing industry-specific blogs, news websites and other reputable publications. One way to stay up to date is by subscribing to newsletters like Oliver Bullough’s Oligarchy which explores global transparency and financial corruption.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is not only a fantastic resource for tracking the potential for corrupt practices but also has a wealth of training guides. Whilst these guides are written for journalists, there is an overlap between the skills needed to be a successful investigative business reporter and due diligence professional.
Another useful resource is the Organized Crime Reporting Project which exposes crime and corruption by publishing stories that educate the public about the "criminal services industry."
What are the biggest challenges for due diligence professionals and investigators?
One significant challenge revolves around the assumption that information available online is comprehensive and reliable. As businesses scrutinise their supply chains to comply with ESG regulations, relying on questionnaires and online sources to assess a company’s reputation presents risks. A good reputation is easily fabricated through online sources. Despite the internet's vast resources, search engines are becoming less reliable due to the influx of advertising-driven content and irrelevant information, so finding the results you need involves blocking out a lot of noise. The importance of physical verification and on-ground investigation has never been more significant.
How do you see corporate transparency evolving in the future?
In the past, the EU has been a driving force behind establishing better corporate transparency. This shifted in November 2022 when the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidated open public access to ultimate beneficial owner (UBO) registers. Since, we've witnessed severe backtracking from some of the formerly most transparent jurisdictions across the EU. Previously public data has now been limited to qualified institutions who can prove a need for legitimate access. To put the scale of this shift into perspective, if Ukraine was to join the EU tomorrow then, they would need to downgrade their anti-corruption measures to comply with current EU Law.
By retaining vestigial EU regulations, Britain has inadvertently established higher standards of data transparency than many countries across Europe. However, Companies House is a repository for self disclosed information that is not independently verified. As investigative journalist Graham Barrow demonstrates on his podcast The Dark Money Files, UK registration can provide a veneer of credibility to a scam and fortify criminal networks by convincing victims of their legitimacy. A system needs to be developed that enables the registry to be monitored and verified, rather than abused.
What is one of the most challenging jurisdictions to gather information in?
Countries and jurisdictions are becoming less and less relevant in corporate transparency discussions. Instead, we are seeing a global trend towards freezones and freeports that offer incentives, such as tariff exemptions on inputs and free warehousing, that are designed to encourage foreign and domestic investment. Jumping between these subdivisions with different regulatory regimes makes it difficult for an investigator to gain a holistic view. Whilst the UAE is taking strides towards better corporate transparency, it's still one of the most challenging jurisdictions to gather information in. This is partly due to the seven emirates and forty multidisciplinary free zones, which create a patchwork of regulation that is easily abused and increasingly difficult to monitor.
What are you reading at the moment?
I've just started reading Ubik by Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite science fiction authors. He was an American writer who produced many notable works such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle. His novels often explore philosophical and social questions such as the essence of reality, perception, human behaviour, and identity.
What is your favourite food and why?
I'm a big fan of paella. It's comforting, versatile and definitely my Mum's best dish.
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