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Serving a New Niche: An Interview with the Association of Corporate Investigators

Sam Bock

Data analysis and discovery goes far beyond e-discovery in today’s corporate environment. Many teams need to dig into huge amounts of company data to ensure compliance, perform contract review, and more.

Among these groups are corporate investigators—highly skilled professionals tasked with managing their companies’ responses to regulator action, conduct internal investigations, and stay on top of employee behaviour. A new professional association has been formed to support, educate, and advance these experts as they develop their careers and stay abreast of the technology and industry evolution that keeps them on their toes.

At Relativity Fest London, the Association of Corporate Investigators presented to attendees about conducting investigative interviews. Their session received wonderful feedback and a lot of interest. We chatted with Steve Young, CEO of the ACi, after the show to dig into the organization’s mission and what niche they hope to fill in the world of investigations.  

You’ll also hear from the Association of Corporate Investigators at Relativity Fest Chicago. Their session—“The Ins and Outs of Conducting Remote Investigations”—will take place on Tuesday. Be sure to save your spot for this year’s completely virtual, completely free conference.

Sam: What is the Association of Corporate Investigators?

Steve: The Association of Corporate Investigators (ACi) could best be described as a “start-up” association. It aims to fulfil the normal services associations offer to their members. For us, this will include an education and training pathway, networking events, conferences, symposiums, best practice resources, and a members-only portal with access to a members directory, jobs board, and careers advice. We remember that associations exist to serve their members—and, as such, we are asking the corporate investigations community what they would like their association to deliver.

What is the organization’s mission?

The ACi mission is to ensure that corporate investigations is universally recognised as an accredited profession, and that the ACi is a key enabler for continued personal development and operational investigative excellence.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the ACi established this mission? What need are you hoping to fill?

The way many associations start is with a group of professionals seeking to give back to the careers which have served, or are serving, them well. So it was for us. A group of other corporate investigation heads and I identified a gap in the associations landscape. Younger members of our teams were asking where they could meet colleagues for different industry sectors. So we engaged in those conversations to establish a path forward. To give you a feel for what we had in mind when we got started, here’s an abstract of an interview with a young member of a corporate investigations team:

As a junior corporate investigator in a global company, I know my role will be demanding, involve unsocial hours, and travel at short notice, but for me that’s part of its appeal.

Having joined the team, I started to look outside the company for what investigation resources were available to me. I have grown up in the digital age, so I expected to find lots online and through business and social media. I soon realised there is very little out there exclusively for corporate investigators.

I have observed that my colleagues in corporate and NGO environments are members of associations and networks for the business areas in which they work. For example, those in human resources, audit, legal, compliance, and finance have a range of associations or professional bodies they can join.

I was recently asked by our global head of investigations what would I like to see an association of corporate investigators offer. So here are my thoughts.

Firstly, apart from my in-house and on-the-job training, I was looking for an external qualification which would have international recognition and standing. I would also like flexibility in how I can learn new materials related to this field.

Secondly, I was looking to become part of something which, as a member, would give me professional recognition. To be part of an association of likeminded professionals gives me the same standing as many of my other colleagues in the other departments.

I would also like to visit a website packed full of useful resources, attend conferences which are dedicated to corporate investigations, and have access to a network of fellow corporate investigators in different industry sectors. Not to be too demanding, but it would be great to see the association with a business media presence on LinkedIn and other sites to join the conversation.

In terms of my career development, it would also be good see opportunities for advancement posted on the association website. Many of my other colleagues have advanced their careers through the network they have built up though association membership.

To be honest, when I look at all the other professions, I am surprised that this does not exist already!

You presented a panel at Relativity Fest London on the subject of corporate investigations. Can you tell us about what that session covered, and what sort of feedback you received on it?

The session covered recording investigative interviews. This is a hot topic in the corporate investigations community, as some are for and some are against recording. Additionally, there are some legal restraints depending on the jurisdiction the interview is taking place, and legal privilege needs careful consideration. So much was discussed between the panel members. Added to this is the current COVID-19 crisis and the need to conduct interviews remotely. We also discussed how the work product from interviews could be included in Relativity as part of an investigation, and the ability to conduct searches across the interview transcripts.

In terms of feedback, it was extremely positive. We (the ACi) held two further webinars on remote investigating and interviewing in response to demand and the desire for best practice guidance in the current crisis. Those two webinars (one directed at the EMEA region, and one directed at the ASPAC region) have garnered over 1000 views.

What was it like to attend and present during our first virtual Relativity Fest London?

It was early days in virtual events, but the Relativity team did an excellent job and all went smoothly on the day. It was very much different from presenting to a live audience and the energy you get from the room, but going by the number of questions we received, the remote audience was very engaged.

How does investigations work differ from e-discovery or e-disclosure? How is it similar?

Investigative work is very much woven into both concepts.

We view e-discovery as the recovery of digital data (all types of data: e-mails, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and so on) for investigative review purposes. With just about everything in corporate life now in digital form, the ability to ‘discover’ and ‘recover’ all relevant electronic data is critical to the investigation process. Volumes of corporate data and new technologies are growing by the day and the recovery of digital data is now a science requiring specialised e-discovery experts.

We view e-disclosure as the process for disclosing digital data during investigative proceedings such as internal HR discipline proceedings, or external criminal, civil, employment, regulatory, and administrative proceedings. This disclosure must be thorough and follow defined procedures for the correct storage, retention, and discovery/recovery of digital data. e-Disclosure is a discipline in its own right and normally conducted by e-discovery experts.

Find Out What Happens After the Investigation

Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.