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Corporate investigations - a year in review!

Churchill Investigation Services

We at Churchill Investigation Services are just approaching our first anniversary as a full time business.

That is, one year as a Partnership team in our own right as opposed to many years of both Freelance and Corporately employed investigations and project work.

And to celebrate, and to maintain momentum – we have joined the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce!

As with any small, new business, the road has been rocky at times particularly in these uncertain economic times.

When potential clients have long established suppliers for Process Service, Skip Tracing or Fraud Investigations, why change?

Our clients time is limited so why allocate precious time to new kids on the block?

Our clients just want to get the job done and are essentially risk-averse.

Indeed, isn’t that true of most of us? #

Further, we didn’t start with a Police background which might (not always) indicate a proven Investigative bent.

Both partners have a military background but most of our careers have been in the Corporate world.

I think most potential clients still expect a PI to be an ex-copper, maybe even a borderline alcoholic and even willing to take risks with the law in order pay the office rent at the end of the month.

Curse those perennial movie and TV images! Luckily, times have changed, considerably.

True, some of the very best in the business will be ex-Police, but by no means all.

So, it was into this somewhat closed and uncertain world that we launched ourselves in early 2017.

And like any new small business, we learned a lot! We agreed that, due to our long experience in corporate environments, our reporting standards and our communication expectations would be very high. Indeed, the very best.

The final Report is our product.

The Report is what the Client is left with when we are gone. So it has to be clear, precise, legal, evidential, image rich and fair.

This is where we could make a difference, so this is what we would sell.

We created a decent website, kick-started our Twitter account, designed leaflets and information sheets and researched our target clientele.

LinkedIn was also important in order to establish a profile for our business, as was a telesales and email campaign.

But our most enjoyable and successful method of marketing was by personal visit during leafleting.

Yes, we reverted to the old ‘analogue’ method of cold calling in person to drop off leaflets.

Pressing the flesh, just saying “Hello”, collecting business cards and then following up. Immensely enjoyable, we put faces to names and enabled our potential clients to do the same.

Eventually, slowly and after much worn shoe-leather, it began to work! We began to get enquiries and trial cases from Solicitors and other legal entities.

It is of course MUCH harder to gain new clients than to retain existing ones. So we knew we had to approach each new case, no matter how small, with all the focus and vigour we could muster. We had to prove value and return the clients trust many fold.

Our Reporting had to be more, not less. We completed the job, and then a little bit more.

Gradually this has worked. We now have many repeat clients for whom we approach every case as if it’s the first and potentially the last.

By that I mean you can never take any client for granted.

You have to perform, produce and report to the very best of your skills and ability every time.

We are only as good as our last job! As a matter of interest we have reviewed our cases over the last 12 months to see where our business is coming from, by invoice value rather than number of cases.

The following numbers appear (rounded down):

· Legal profession (Law Firms, Solicitors, Barristers etc..) 70%

· Corporate bodies 25%

· Private individuals 5%

This breakdown is not surprising and is probably typical of our sector.

Law firms already have an eye on due diligence and the law (somewhat obviously) and they tend to provide clear Instructions and a framework within which to work.

The relationship is collaborative and professional and usually successful.

If we look at the types of work we have undertaken for Solicitors and Barristers we find the following results rounded down:

• Process Service 50%. Bread and butter repeat business that needs to be done lawfully, truthfully and consistently well.

• Surveillance 30%. Often family related matters or claims, even clinical negligence and Criminal Defence recently.

• OSINT/Tracing 20%. Debtors, family matters, exaggerated claims, background checks etc.

The situation is very different when we look at our use by Corporate bodies.

By this we mean UK companies both local and national (or international).

Our figure of 25% should be higher.

Indeed in other countries such as the USA the figure is much higher.

So why do UK corporate bodies shy away from a sector that can provide a much needed resource to their management teams?

From our own experiences in the corporate world the answers are quite clear and are threefold:

• Perceived fear of the law (Employment Law, DPA (GDPR) Human Rights etc)

• Employee Relations (loyal, hard working employees may not appreciate being ‘snooped’ upon)

• Brand Protection We have undertaken cases for companies within the UK centred around long-term absence/exaggerated injury claims and also large scale theft on a national level.

The latter was organised gang related and the investigation took us to the south coast, Wales, central London and the Midlands.

This was a great example of where a small focused team can provide an entirely bespoke solution to a problem.

In this case it was the Brand that was under threat and needed protection from those taking advantage of our Clients market share.

So, in such cases the need for our services may seem obvious but still many companies do not even consider the use of an independent investigation team.

Why is this? HR teams often like to employ ‘Best Practice’ when it comes to Employment Laws and Human Rights, Privacy, DPA and so on. And so they should.

However, such rules are often misinterpreted and ‘Best Practice’ can often become ‘Do nothing!’ ‘Steer clear!’ ‘Don’t go there!’

This ignores the rights of the Employer and Business Owner to protect their business!

Equally, it might be thought that an outside Investigation into long-term absence or exaggerated injury claim or even theft might affect Employee relations and lower the morale of loyal hard working colleagues.

This is so often not the case. From experience most of us have known that co-worker who is swinging the lead.

Spending weeks or months off work while others struggle to cover the hours and duties of the absentee.

Those in the team usually ‘know’ that their colleague is not really sick, or that it is exaggerated, or that they are actually working elsewhere whilst still being paid by the company. It is THIS that lowers morale.

The team wonders why ‘……nothing is done about it.’

We are talking about special circumstances here. We are not talking about those employees that rightly deserve the support of a good employer through difficult times. Most of the time, managers and colleagues will know those that are taking advantage.

Those that stand out. Such cases are, let’s face it, fraud.

Happily, we have the experience that helps us understand how HR departments need to work. We know what needs to happen and understand the wider disciplinary process.

We remain discreet and work not in isolation, but as an extension of the existing management team in order to provide a full, evidential Report that the employer can then use to make the right decision for their business.

At the same time protecting the Brand by avoiding the need to go public or involve the Police (for instance in cases of theft).

Many times, when presented with evidence of wrong-doing, a wayward employee will resign.

During such Investigations we remain entirely lawful, unbiased, proportionate and respect and protect the Privacy of others and of the company.

We are registered with ICO and are GDPR compliant and all Investigations are carried out alongside RIPA rules (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

It’s worth repeating once more, a business owner has the absolute right to protect their business.

It’s been a roller-coaster year and a reasonably successful one.

We have met some wonderful people, many of whom are now repeat clients.

They are all immensely valuable to us. We have also co-operated with many colleagues in this hard working and fascinating sector of ours, from all around the country.

These experienced PI’s have been supportive and knowledgeable and, like ourselves, have a determination via CPD to keep abreast of the Law, business trends, case-management and techniques so that we can go on being of service to our respective clients.

Thanks to all and here’s to the next year!