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 very own William Higgins, Head of Product.
What is your background in due diligence & investigations?
I fell into the industry almost by accident, via an internship at an investigations and competitive intelligence firm. If I’m being entirely honest, I didn’t even know that the industry existed, but I was immediately drawn to the challenges it presented. My prior research experience had mostly dealt with topics on which there were extensive bodies of literature and robust datasets, and suddenly I was being asked to look into people, companies, and industries for which limited public information existed. It required a lot of unconventional thinking and persistence, but I always enjoyed the process of finding the pieces and putting them together.
Over the course of a decade, I worked for investigations and intelligence firms in France, Brazil, and the US, and worked on projects taking me all around the world, from Latin America to West Africa to the Middle East to Southeast Asia, among others. My work spanned everything from standard compliance due diligence, to complex fraud investigations, to niche industry analyses, to deep-dive competitor intelligence projects, and across sectors as diverse as banking, mining, media and telecommunications, consumer goods, and public utilities, to name a few.
What attracted you to join GTI?
While I loved the work I did as an investigations and due diligence practitioner, it was not without its frustrations. I saw a lot of inefficiencies and outdated practices that added unnecessary time and cost to projects. There has been a lot of reliance on email blasts asking for help finding local sources, and even standard requests often had to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, which added a lot of unnecessary time and friction to the project workflow.
When I heard about what GTI was doing, I jumped at the chance to become a part of it. The due diligence and investigations industry has remained stubbornly analogue and old-fashioned, but change is finally coming, and I’m excited to be a part of that. New technologies have a lot to offer in terms of process improvement and cost reduction, while at the same time generating better results.
Tell us a bit about your role at GTI
My title is Head of Product, so I oversee everything from conceptualising and delivering new features on our platform to expanding our network, to ensuring the quality of work our clients receive. It’s a very broad remit, but one offers a wealth of opportunities to improve our users’ experience with GTI.
As a former producer and consumer of due diligence and investigations work, I have a good perspective on what our users are looking for, but understanding how they use our platform in practice has been an invaluable source of insight. Building what you think users want without taking the time to truly understand their needs is a great way to deliver the wrong thing , so we always ensure that we are making informed decisions based on solid research and user input.
What are the biggest challenges facing investigators/due diligence professionals at the moment?
It’s not novel or revelatory to say that compliance professionals are being asked to do more with less, but it’s true. As the need for compliance work increases, companies are trying to meet their legal obligations without breaking the bank. So while overall compliance costs may be growing, the resources devoted to any particular case are often shrinking. As an investigator, I certainly felt that squeeze myself, and that pressure has continued to intensify.
Another challenge is the increasing amount of data available to investigators. You might think that this is unambiguously a good thing–and it certainly does have benefits–but the sheer volume can be overwhelming. If you don’t know how to use all of that data effectively, it can be hard to find the signal among all the noise.
How do you see the industry changing in the next 5 years?
For one thing, there is an increasing need for compliance and due diligence work. This is driven in part by increasing regulatory demands placed on corporate actors by governmental authorities to step up their game when it comes to anti-financial crime measures, and in part by reputational and ESG concerns, which have been an increasingly important part of the public conversation.
At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, increasing data volumes mean that basic investigative skills and techniques, while still necessary, are not sufficient anymore. Data analysis is an increasingly important part of the industry, but not a domain where many existing actors have a lot of experience. I think we’ll see an increasing need for that capability in the industry and there will be growing competition for investigators with that skill set.
What role do you think technology plays in the industry and how do you see it developing?
Technology doesn’t currently play nearly a large enough role in the industry. The challenges and industry changes I’ve mentioned are all ones that will benefit from an infusion of tech. Managing investigations efficiently at scale while staying within budget, using new tools and methods to detect increasingly sophisticated fraud and misconduct, and doing it all on the accelerated timeline demanded by the modern world–these are not things that can be done purely through the traditional approach to investigations.
Our goal at Ground Truth is to help clients meet all of these challenges with the help of technology: controlling costs without short-changing the investigators or compromising the quality of the work, facilitating investigators’ work through access to novel tools and processes, and streamlining the whole process to increase speed and reduce friction. These are things we’re constantly thinking about.
What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in this space?
It’s not a career for the faint of heart, but it can be incredibly rewarding and gives you the chance to do some real good in the world. It requires dedication and constant learning, and staying at the forefront of investigative techniques is crucial to making sure the industry doesn’t pass you by. But if you enjoy the challenges that come with the work, you’ll never be bored.
What are you reading at the moment?
Like many members of our team, I'm a huge fantasy nerd, and currently I'm wrapping up N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a very well written story with nuanced characters and great world building. I would recommend it to fantasy and non-fantasy fans alike.
What is your favourite food and why?
I can never say no to a good risotto. It’s one of the first “real” dishes I learned to make myself and I love experimenting with it and iterating on different recipes. It’s also very versatile - you can cater to almost anyone’s tastes with some combination of ingredients.
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