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. We are beginning 2024 with an insightful chat with one of our Network Partners, Miro Bocchino. Miro is currently pursuing a PhD at Oxford University alongside his professional career as an Intelligence Analyst.
What is your background in due diligence & investigations?
I started my career as a research assistant for various think tanks where I delved into areas of counterterrorism and public policy. Realising that I wanted my work to have a more direct impact on decision-making, I joined Kroll's Forensic Investigations and Intelligence team in Milan. During my time there, I gained invaluable insights into due diligence and corporate intelligence and witnessed the tangible impact of my reports on decision-making processes.
Seeking to expand my expertise beyond a single jurisdiction and industry, I transitioned to working as a contractor. Drawing on my international background from studying in the UK and US and living in the Middle East, I aimed to leverage my diverse experiences for a global professional career. As a contractor, I've had the privilege of collaborating with clients in various industries and jurisdictions, including Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia.
Can you tell us about your experience working with GTI?
The opportunity to work with GTI came at a crucial juncture in my career. My decision to become a contractor unfortunately coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, which posed challenges in building a client base through traditional networking. Joining GTI as a Network Partner proved instrumental in overcoming this hurdle, providing a steady stream of clients. My collaboration with GTI has only strengthened over the years and more recently our partnership has evolved to include an additional dimension as now I am leveraging my PhD from Oxford to support the GTI product team.
Can you tell us more about your PhD and why you chose it?
Whether it's related to work, our daily activities, or diplomacy, the role that secrecy plays in decision-making has always fascinated me. During my master’s at King's College London, I focused on the way secrecy was used during the Oslo Peace Accords. However, my interest wasn’t satiated and only grew as I began working as an intelligence analyst. In my PhD, I explore the intersection of secrecy and artificial intelligence, examining whether certain facets of the diplomatic process can be automated to expedite conflict resolution and promote peace. The central question revolves around the potential collaboration between AI and human experts, aiming to streamline the efforts of intelligence analysts, diplomats, politicians, and negotiators, ultimately achieving deals at a reduced time and cost.
How do you see AI impacting the due diligence and investigations industry? What are the biggest challenges and benefits?
Privacy stands out as a paramount concern. The sheer volume of data available for harvesting poses both an opportunity and a challenge. While human intelligence analysts grapple with cognitive limitations in analysing the vast information landscape, AI offers a promising avenue for automating processes like data collection and noise filtration. However, this potential automation raises red flags for privacy, as the risk of indiscriminate data harvesting looms large. How do we strike a balance between leveraging AI for efficiency and safeguarding individual privacy? It's a conundrum that necessitates thoughtful and robust regulatory frameworks.
Another challenge is how to maintain quality whilst reducing turnaround times amidst fluctuating workloads. AI, particularly in automating repetitive tasks, presents a viable solution. Consider the example of directorship checks—a meticulous process that AI can expedite, freeing up valuable time for analysts to focus on nuanced assessments.
The spectre of misinformation adds another layer of complexity. Whether in the realm of corporate intelligence or broader information contexts, the challenge is to discern truth from fiction. Disinformation not only affects political landscapes but also poses a risk in business investigations where inaccurate information can mislead analysts. Artificial intelligence may not be able to discern reliable and unreliable sources as easily as an analyst who can pick up on the nuances of a text.
Are boots-on-the-ground investigators still important?
Yes, especially with the current iteration of AI, which is still referred to as narrow, which means the learning algorithm is designed to perform a single task and any knowledge gained will not be automatically applied to other tasks. Currently, AI is only a useful tool if it is being leveraged by a human who is able to apply their critical thinking skills to whatever results are provided. This is especially important given that AI algorithms can be biassed and the data harvested requires a human perspective to evaluate the results.
Boots-on-the-ground investigators are particularly important in projects involving low-profile companies and individuals. When the trail of information available online runs cold then, human source enquiries provide an alternative path where investigators conduct discreet conversations with specific sources. Such conversations often result in a wealth of knowledge that could not be obtained by AI.
What are the biggest challenges facing investigators at the moment?
After the legal proceedings in Luxembourg when public access to the register of beneficial owners was suspended, conducting Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBO) searches in Europe has become more complex. The significance of finding UBO information within an investigation cannot be overstated. Previously, investigators were able to sift through registries across Europe. Now that general accessibility to registries has been revoked, investigators have to demonstrate “legitimate interest”.
Another pressing challenge stems from the digital transformation that is rapidly engulfing investigative procedures. As various aspects of business registers become digitised, gaining access necessitates the use of digital IDs. This poses a dilemma for investigators, as leaving a discernible digital footprint is far from ideal. The evolving landscape demands a strategic approach to maintaining anonymity, often requiring investigators to explore alternative methods and third-party providers to circumvent the constraints imposed by digital IDs.
What will due diligence look like in the next three to five years?
One of the biggest changes to the due diligence industry is that it was once shrouded in obscurity and now has become critical in the successful functioning of the modern business world. Over the next three years, I envision that the centrality of due diligence will continue to be cemented. As an OSINT expert in Italy, I have watched the term "due diligence" expand beyond the niche vocabulary of firms and agencies and become a global buzzword.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am currently engrossed in With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates. Exploring how lived experiences influence decision-making fascinates me, particularly in the context of influential figures whose contributions continue to shape both domestic and foreign policies.
What is your favourite food and why?
While I enjoy an array of dishes, I must confess a particular fondness for Carbonara. It is simple and yet includes all the essential elements for a delicious meal.
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