In episode one of this five-part special, Tom Fox discusses risk intelligence from a geopolitical perspective. Guest Chris Mason explains the importance of risk assessment and analysis that companies must undertake when engaging in international business and the need for conducting due diligence based on open-source intelligence to uncover and mitigate hidden risks.
Chris Mason is with Infortal Worldwide, a global risk firm that provides due diligence services to support various risk types. Infortal Worldwide supports a lot of private equity investment, mergers and acquisitions, and any type of risk scenario a business may face.
“When considering a new investment, you need to gain a deep understanding of who you’re doing business with.” – Chris Mason
Welcome to the show notes for Season One of Riskology by Infortal™.
Riskology is a podcast that combines the worlds of geopolitics and intelligence with that of business. Geopolitical risk threatens global trade, supply chain integrity, and corporate reputation unlike anything seen since World War Two. Riskology by Infortal™ is meant to inform, entertain, and cut through the noise of crisis so business professionals can have a clear understanding of their place in the constantly changing global economy.
The following is a collected transcript of our podcast episodes from our launch through September 2023. In this season you will:
Please note: These transcripts are noted as spoken, and are dated to early Fall 2023. As such, this season does not include up-to-date information related to unfolding crises such as the October 7, 2023 attack in Israel, radical electoral outcomes in Europe and Argentina, or the looming war between Venezuela and Guyana.
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-The Riskology Team
Infortal on Risk Intelligence Part 1: Global Risk with Chris Mason
Chris: One of the things that you really have to understand is how to gain access to the information. Most of the intel and information that's out there is actually on the deep web. So, it's behind paywalls. It's part of service offerings that the Google search, or the Google type search engines will not pick up. It's not indexed. And so, you really have to be equipped with the tools and the know-how to understand how to get after that information and pull it in for your research.
Intro: Companies operating in today's global economy really need to get an understanding of the international geopolitical risk landscape. At Infortal Worldwide, we work with our clients on solving risk before it starts. Welcome to the Riskology podcast. This is a five-part series on geopolitical risk intelligence, where we're looking at managing business risk globally and really understanding the geopolitical risk landscape.
Tom: Hello, everyone. This is Tom Fox and welcome to Infortal Worldwide Global Political Risk Intelligence 2023 outlook. I am joined by Chris Mason in this episode, and we are going to explore a topic that I think has taken on extraordinary importance and that's risk intelligence from a geopolitical basis. So, Chris, first of all, welcome and thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me in this series.
Chris: Absolutely. Great to be here Tom, really looking forward to the discussion today and continuing on through the series. Figured before we kick off, I'll introduce myself. Again, my name is Chris Mason and I'm with Infortal Worldwide. We're a global risk firm that provides due diligence services and a full suite of investigations to support a lot of different risk type situations. We support a lot of private equity, investment, mergers and acquisitions deals. And really any type of risk scenario that your business might face, we can help you navigate that situation. In terms of my personal background, I've spent most of my career with the US Department of Homeland Security at the end of my tenure I was actually the Chief Economist of what's known as the EB5 Program, really interesting program where we were looking at cash flows and investments flowing into the United States. Subsequent to that, I joined one of the largest investment banks here in the United States, spent some time there managing their anti-money laundering department. And now here I am with Infortal Worldwide and super excited to tell you about our service offerings and geopolitical risk plans.
Tom: Chris, perhaps for our business intelligence segment, I could start with what I'm going to say is the basics. Why is it important to know who you're dealing with all the way up to the executive level?
Chris: It's a great question and it's really fundamental to the services that we provide our clients. Recent headlines are definitely clear. You've got to be careful in today's market in terms of understanding who you're doing business with and understanding who's behind the companies that you're planning to either partner with or invest into. FTX's top of mind for everybody. There's a Bernie Madof documentary, I think, on Netflix. So, it keeps happening. The same types of situations keep coming up. There's a quote actually from Mark Twain that's fitting for these types of situations. You know, and he once said, "History never repeats itself, but it often does rhyme." And there's definitely patterns to this stuff. So, in business just like anything else, there's really patterns to the types of fraudulent behavior that pops up time and time again. And so, what does that mean for you as a business owner or as you go through your day-to-day operations, you really need to get a deep understanding of who you're doing business with and that's something that we focus heavily on. The approach that we take is we take an open-source intelligence-based approach to analyzing the risk profile of either individuals that you've planned to engage in business with or new individuals that you plan on bringing into your company. And that's really the focus of what we're able to provide.
Tom: You know, Chris, your quote of Mark Twain really reminded me of my favorite social political history quote that comes to me from Faulkner which is, “past, it's not dead, it's not even past yet.” And I just realized it is equally applicable to the business world.
Chris: Absolutely, absolutely. Just to go a step further in terms of how our process works and what businesses really need to consider is when you're going into a new situation and again, if you're looking at pre-investment situation, private equity, putting together mergers and acquisitions deal or looking at bringing a new partner into the fold, you really need to get a holistic view of the track record and history of that individual and the companies that are involved. And what we find is a lot of businesses will simply stop at doing straight forward simple background checks or really just kind of going with that gut feel in terms of how they feel about the individuals. I'll tell you based on what we've seen and based upon the 30-year track record of what our company has reviewed, that's not enough, really got to go deeper. And so, the way that we approach that is we take an open-sourced intelligence-based approach to really collecting information and all of the different resources that are available. So, we're talking deep web and certain circumstances, dark web, social media, we look at litigation, criminal background potential, and we really weave together a full holistic view of the profile of the individuals and companies involved with the deal. Once you have that information, you can really chart out what the actual risks are in terms of how you plan to move forward. And that's really critical as you're in the earlier stages of the deal-making process.
Tom: Chris, I was very intrigued by your remarks around M&A work because typically when people will come to an Infortal Worldwide or perhaps other company, they're thinking about a senior executive, perhaps a CEO for the organization, perhaps for a joint venture partner. But your thoughts about broadening this, I'm going to say broadening, I think you would say, just based into the M&A world really speaks to a need that I don't think that message has really gotten through even in 2023. Are you still having to counsel clients, customers, and potential clients on the advantages of doing this in the M&A context and the real need to do so as well?
Chris: That's absolutely right! We do spend a lot of time and effort talking through and educating practitioners in the M&A space about the value that this type of research can provide. You know a lot of work goes into the M&A due diligence process generally speaking, a lot of financial analysis, a lot of operational due diligence, but it's really the intangibles that we're able to look at and really analyze whether or not there's any risks within the profile of the individuals or the businesses involved that could actually impact the deal down the road or completely change the way that you look at the valuation. If you really look at the breakdown in terms of how the deal is structured as well, a lot of times there's going to be a situation where there's an earn out as part of the compensation package and you need to ask yourself in those situations, do you truly trust the individuals that are going to be charged with running the business and providing you with that earn out? Performing that due diligence at the outset really gives you that assurance that you could trust who you're doing business with. On the other side of the coin, indefinitely, and sort of a more positive light, a lot of times when practitioners and those that are putting together M&A deals have parties that don't really know each other coming to the table this type of analysis and research can really bring those parties closer together because it gives them an assurance in terms of through their doing business with and we've seen a lot of added value in M&A deals where the parties weren't sure of each other and we were able to provide that assurance going forward in the deal.
Tom: Chris, let me pick up on the point you raised. We have been talking about executives and executive due diligence, but you also raised doing due diligence on the company and perhaps even market due diligence. Could you explain what those are and why those are so critical in this overall process?
Chris: Very similar in terms of pretty easy to sort of wrap your head around conducting due diligence on an individual on the types of information that you would find. Once you start considering companies, it's a lot more complex, but the process and the type of analysis that you can perform is actually insane. It's really getting a sense of who's behind the company that you're dealing with, who's behind the company that you're planning to partner with. Because what you'll often times see is as the deals are being put together, you'll have an LLC at the table and you'll have certain companies listed, but you actually don't really know who's behind those companies. And often times there's multiple layers and so you really have to dig deep to understand who you're actually doing business with.
Tom: The open-source intelligence that you mentioned, I’ve known Candice Tal a long time, and I’m always amazed that if I present to her a problem usually in about 30 minutes she comes back with a piece of open-source intelligence. Myself or my colleagues have been able to find in hours of research. I was wondering if you could maybe amplify about that part of Infortal Worldwide’ s business on how you all are able to find not things that are really hidden away because you say they're open source, but many due diligence providers do not find that information.
Chris: You're absolutely right. A lot of providers don't find this type of information and it's a really fascinating field of work. It's grown a lot in the past few years in terms of the amount of information that's out there and the ability of practitioners in the know to be able to obtain a wealth of information about individuals and companies. One of the things that you really have to understand is how to gain access to the information. Most of the intel and information that's out there is actually on the deep web so It's behind paywalls. It's part of service offerings that the Google search, the Google type search engines will not pick up. It's not indexed. And so, you really have to be equipped with the tools and the know how to understand how to get after that information and pull it in for your research.
Tom: Maybe I'd like to end by asking you, Chris. We've talked about some of the advantages of engaging in business intelligence, but could you speak to really the potential downside or the potential cost if a company gets it wrong. And you can either use one of the myriad examples Candice used over the years, or just simply say what can happen if you bring in the wrong ELT senior executive or purchase the wrong company.
Chris: The headline speak for themselves, especially in the last quarter, it's 2022. I think a great example is the current situation with JP Morgan. They made a major acquisition of a company that basically they were provided with a list. I want to say it was over two million customers that that company supposedly had. It turns out it was completely made up. The list was completely fabricated. And so here you have JP Morgan, one of the major players in the US financial market, who's now made a $25-$26 million decision based on false information. Now, if your decision-making was dependent on understanding the true customer base of that company, an open-sourced intelligence based due diligence approach would have allowed you to figure out that, hey, this place is actually no good, this customer list does not actually exist. I think that's probably a good current example of how open-sourced due diligence can really save you from making a mistake.
Tom: You know Chris, I thought you were about to regale me with tales of uh billion-air hedge funds investments in FTX. But your JP Morgan example is even, I think, more spot-on. Recently in the news, a young entrepreneur, basically hood-winked one of the world's top financial institutions. So, I can't think of really a better way to end this podcast. I hope our listers will join us for our next episode where you rejoin me and talk about ESG intelligence. Chris, before we leave, for listeners who wanted more information on literally any of the topics you've touched on today. What would be the best place for them to go?
Chris: Absolutely! Hitting our website would be the best and that’s Infortal.com.
Tom: Chris, I look forward to continuing this conversation.