Expand Your Private Investigations Services With Strategic Partnerships
- October 27, 2010
- by Bill Blake
Todays private investigator is experiencing reduced workloads and more financial pressures. At the same time, investigations have become more complex, requiring additional specialized skills. Investigations are also getting to be more multi-national as businesses expand their market area. As a result, many private investigators are looking for additional sources of revenue.
To increase their revenue base, modern-day private investigators have found it necessary to increase their service base. At this point, a decision must be made on the mechanics of increasing services. At one extreme is the addition of employees with specialized skills at an increased cost for wages and benefits. Another alternative is working with other investigators to combine skills and expertise. The primary decision point is return on investment. To hire additional employees requires that there will be enough of a need for their services to make it a profitable decision. Forming alliances with other investigators is an economical route to additional profit. You do not have the added expense for wages and benefits while having the resources available to you as needed.
Alliances can be profitable for both parties. For example, if a client requests assistance in determining how funds are being illegally diverted out of an income account, there no doubt will be a requirement for a computer forensic expert. The originating investigator can accomplish the routine tasks of interviewing witnesses, collection of records, and monitoring the work of the computer forensic expert. In this case, the computer forensics expert will conduct the appropriate investigation and report his findings to the originating investigator. Both reports of investigation and an invoice will be sent to the client. The originating investigator will be responsible for the payment to the expert. The experts invoice should not be itemized but included in the finalized invoice as a consolidated subcontractor expense.
There are numerous factors to be considered in identifying a competent investigator. The reputation of the investigator cannot always be determined by the source from which you obtained his/her name. Using the telephone directory yellow pages as the source for investigative support is a dangerous approach. While the telephone directory may provide names of individuals advertising investigative services, additional inquiries must be made. The sole criterion for telephone directory advertising is having a business telephone number listed under the category of private detectives or investigators. The telephone company makes no inquiries as to the validity or competence of the business.
It is important to remember that private investigation associations have a variety of qualifications for membership. Membership in a private investigation association, by itself, does not necessarily equate to competence. In some cases it is nothing more than filling out an application form and having the registration fee. In other cases, such as Intellenet (www.intellenetwork.org), there is a minimum requirement for ten years of verifiable investigative experience, a thorough and extensive vetting process, and a personal recommendation of an Intellenet member to apply for membership. Intellenet qualifications and experiences greatly exceed the vast majority of other similar associations, providing an appropriate return on financial investment.
Another important factor is the private investigator licensing requirements for the various jurisdictions. Some states have stringent requirements to obtain a license as a private investigator. One state has a requirement for a minimum of 3,000 hours of experience under the direct supervision of a qualified investigative supervisor before being authorized to operate a private investigation business.
Some states have lesser qualifications and may or may not require continuing education credits to maintain a license. At the other end of the spectrum are those states that have no licensing or minimum standards, such as Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota and Wyoming. This provides a situation where a convicted felon can perform investigative services without having to endure the scrutiny of a background investigation or criminal records check. In Colorado, for example, any business should be registered with the Colorado Secretary of State Office but this obligation is not always enforced. In many subordinate jurisdictions even a business license is not required. Many states do not require any form of professional insurance: errors & omissions, automotive liability, or workers compensation. In the event of misconduct or injury, the financial obligations of litigation and awards may be transferred to the individual hiring the investigator.
An area often overlooked is the professional certifications of the individual investigator. An important aspect is whether the certification was earned or was it awarded without examination of abilities. Professional Certified Investigator (PCI) of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) is an internationally recognized certification based on a minimum experience level, an initial investigative content examination, and periodic re-certification through a continuing education requirement. ASIS also awards a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) certification with similar qualification in the security consulting arena. Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) awarded by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners is a similar certification with an emphasis on the investigation of financial fraud. These certifications require continuing education credits.
Another criterion to be identified is the ability of the investigator to conduct the necessary activities. Will the investigator personally perform your investigative requirements or will they be sub-contracted to another individual? This can create a potential problem: What are the qualifications of the sub-contractor? To comply with Internal Revenue Service requirements to be a contractor or sub-contractor, the employer or contractor cannot direct the sub-contractor to conduct the investigation in a particularly defined manner. The task is given to the contractor and the contractor determines how the task is to be accomplished.
When interviewing a potential investigator, it is prudent to determine the extent of investigative resources available to the investigator. The question is What are the qualifications of the individual from whom the investigator may obtain investigative assistance. This is especially important if portions of the investigation will be conducted in other states or countries.
Conducting investigations in an international environment involves problems not normally encountered in the United States. Among the many issues is the financial cost. It is unrealistic to expect that international hourly rates will be similar to, or lower than, rates within the United States. The recent decline of the dollar against the Euro and other currencies has dramatically increased the costs of an investigation.The current average minimum hourly rate for international investigations is in the $200 to $250 range.
Another issue is the manner in which international records are maintained and the bureaucratic roadblocks to speedy compliance with requests. In the United States, the vast majority of records and documents are accessible via computer with the generation of immediate results. It should be remembered that more than 90% of the world works by old-fashioned investigative standards and practices and has draconian secrecy laws for all investigations, including asset searches and background checks. In some instances, the bureaucracy requires that only a limited number of individuals have access to records. This could mean an extended period of response time when the designated person is unavailable to process the request.
Another issue in the international arena is the additional travel time required because of the distance involved in getting to records storage at distant locations. The poor-quality transportation system in some countries dramatically increases the travel time required to complete a project. In non-English-speaking countries there is also the cost and time required for translations. The actual and incidental bureaucratic costs of obtaining records on a timely basis must also be considered. In some foreign venues, non-native requests for information are not given the same priority as requests from indigenous personnel.
In addition, corruption can be a factor in some developing countries, thus has to be included in any pricing arrangements. When a client or fellow investigator is quoted a fee from an overseas provider, the potential customer often decides to get a quote from several other local providers in the country concerned. Fair enough. Sometimes local providers will be in a better position to quote lower than an international provider, usually based on lower overhead; but sometimes based on issues of corruption. Transparency International ranks many countries in the developing world much higher on the list of corrupt countries than those in the Western World. And unfortunately, that occasionally trickles down into the private investigation industry. Some local providers, though not necessarily the majority, may discard your legal papers in a process service, and prepare a fraudulent affidavit of service. Or they may engage in ghost writing negative results, never having conducted the required leads in the first place; taking your money for a little literary effort.
Forming alliances with other private investigators and specialty experts will result in additional income and prestige. When your client asks you to undertake a task, you have the ability to say, Yes I can, because your alliance can provide the expert skills and additional investigative resource you may need. One word of caution: Make sure your alliance partner has the experience you need and is in compliance with all mandated business requirements.
Bill Blake has more than 50 years of experience as a private investigator and corporate security manager. He is a member of Intellenet and a guest contributor to the PInow.com Weekly News Round-up.
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