Inside reputational & strategic risk investigations: Q&A with Laura Hamilton, Falanx Assynt

In our continuing series of interviews, we caught up with Laura Hamilton, Senior Analyst, Business & Strategic Intelligence at Falanx Assynt, who kindly took some time to tell us about her role, her challenges around the reliability of data sources for risk intelligence, and her views on using Google for investigations.

Laura HamiltonHi Laura, can you describe your role and a little of your career background?

Hi Luke, I joined Falanx Assynt in May 2019 and have a split role – part of my day job involves writing our signature Assynt Report, which covers geopolitical events in over 40 emerging markets and is predictive in nature. The rest of my role involves looking after our strategic and business intelligence consultancy practice, where we offer clients a range of bespoke reports, which have an emerging market focus, but can require research anywhere in the world. My career path to get here was pretty varied – I studied Spanish and Portuguese, with a focus on Latin America and Lusophone Africa, before completing my Master’s in War Studies at King’s College London. I since have held roles in legal publishing, where I was responsible for the research on Mexico, In international events & communications for a FTSE 100 retailer, then spent three years in a boutique business intelligence consultancy in London before joining Falanx last year.

What do you consider to be your top challenges in terms of the reliability of the data sources you use for reputational and strategic risk investigations?

I think that the main challenge often comes from understanding where the information found in each source comes from – i.e. is it from an official source, or one where subjects submit the information about themselves? These need to be considered as they could influence the credibility of the information gathered. Furthermore, with official sources, it is also important to understand the geopolitical landscape of the source you are looking at, as this can help you to understand how likely it is that the information submitted is accurate and whether external factors may have influenced the source you’re looking at.

You have specific experience in the Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America regions. What do you look for when sourcing data ‘on the ground’ from these areas?

In these areas, since I speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese, I would always look to obtain original language data, where possible. Nuances can often be lost in translation and I am always keen to be able to look at what is publicly available first-hand. I would also look for local sources to assist, as knowledge of the specific landscape is particularly important, especially when there is not necessarily a centralised database you can access. I think it is also crucial that you manage client expectations – we ensure all the information we obtained is ethically sourced and legally admissible, however, it is often a case of knowing how to search and what to look for in the public domain that can help you when carrying out research in more complex jurisdictions.

In a recent Arachnys survey, we discovered 85% of AML & KYC analysts admit to using Google for due diligence or risk investigations. What are your thoughts on this, is Google part of your ‘toolset’ or something to avoid?

Google is a key part of my toolset and one which I will always include in my research, alongside using a number of other databases, depending on the client’s requirements. While it is important to assess the data found through Google depending on the source providing the information, since it does have its limitations, it is a really useful tool, particularly when using you use search operators to tailor your research. I will always look to corroborate information found in unofficial sources, where possible, but have previously found the missing piece of the jigsaw through a clever Google search that helped me tie the rest of the information together.

Falanx Assynt has been a customer of Arachnys for many years. How does the data from Arachnys help Falanx with its geopolitical, strategic, and business risk analysis?

I think Arachnys is a useful tool to help us with the time pressures of our research. We use a wide range of resources, which complement one another and ensure we offer our clients the best end product to meet their requirements. Arachnys helps us when we are carrying multijurisdictional research and hoping to be able to understand what information is available – it’s particularly helpful to be able to use the translation function, as well as easily access a number of official sources in just once search. We also find that the colour-coded system in relation to what information is available in each jurisdiction can be really helpful, particularly when carrying out research in new countries.

How has the current pandemic situation affected your day-to-day role?

I think the main change is that the team is now all working from home, however on the Assynt Report side, the shift of what we are covering also means that we are now mainly COVID-19 in the majority of our reporting, while also keeping an eye on all the other geopolitical events that are of interest to our subscribers. I am lucky to be part of a brilliant, extremely knowledgeable team, including one of my colleagues who studied medical science, which allows us to offer his insight combined with our unique geopolitical expertise. On the consulting side, we have continued to have some really interesting projects to assist our clients, which aren’t COVID-19 related as of now, so this brings a lot of variety to my role.

Finally, where do you find inspiration to help you succeed at work? What podcasts/books/social influencers/events etc can you recommend to others who work in the intelligence industry?

I think the intelligence industry is interesting because the high levels of confidentiality mean that often if you are doing your job well, the wider world doesn’t know about it. The industry isn’t often covered in the mainstream media, books, etc and when it is, it tends to be glamourised version! It is, however an industry where events play a really important role. Networks are invaluable and I’ve been fortunate to be guided along the way by some brilliant people – I’m happy to pay that forward to anyone who is interested in the industry, as I think the more that we can help one another, the better. My alma mater – King’s College London – runs some really interesting events, as do a number of think tanks in London. I have recently finished listening the “Caliphate” podcast by Rukmini Callimachi, which is brilliant and read a lot of writing by foreign correspondents, such as Christina Lamb and Marie Colvin. While not directly related to my day job, I have also just finished reading “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez, which I would also highly recommend, since it analyses gender bias in data, and the impact it has globally.

Thank you Laura!