Avisa Partners, a global risk and reputation management firm, has acquired Forward Risk and Intelligence LLC, a firm that offers investigative due diligence, business intelligence research and international risk assessments for investors, corporations and law firms.
Forward Risk, based in Washington, D.C., works to complement Avisa’s existing advisory offerings. Going forward, Forward Risk will now be known as “Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company)” and retain its existing independent website, branding, leadership team and client roster. The firm’s 30 employees will integrate into Avisa’s U.S. headquarters in Washington and its co-founders, Luke DiMaggio, Andrew Wooster, and Brendan Foo, will become partners of Avisa.
“Avisa Partners delivers elite advisory services to global clients working to solve complex and challenging matters,” says Eric Bovim, CEO of Avisa U.S. “With Forward Risk on board, Avisa can now expand its data-driven solutions to include investigative due diligence, strategic intelligence, and compliance.”
Ce 16 novembre 2022, Avisa Partners a annoncé l’acquisition de la société américaine Forward Risk and Intelligence LLC. Le cabinet parisien spécialiste de l’intelligence économique se renforce ainsi aux États-Unis.
Fondée en 2016, Forward Risk est basée à Washington D.C et opère dans 75 pays. Son cœur de métier est la gestion des risques financiers, l’identification et la récupération d’actifs, ainsi que dans les investigations pré-contentieuses au service des actionnaires et des grandes entreprises. Ses équipes mènent investigations, recherches économiques et financières, et procédures d’évaluation des risques pour les gestionnaires d’actifs, les fonds de capital-investissement, les cabinets d’avocats, les multinationales ou les organisations internationales. L’entreprise met l’accent sur les résultats axés sur la valeur ajoutée obtenue par une stratégie de personnalisation des modes d’actions.
Après l’ouverture d’une filiale basée à Washington en octobre 2019 pour lancer son activité outre-Atlantique, cet achat permet à Avisa Parnets d’augmenter considérablement ses équipes sur place, en outre la trentaine de salariés de Forward Risk arrivent en renfort de la vingtaine d’experts déjà présents dans la filiale américaine d’Avisa. Cette augmentation du personnel vient certainement accroître le chiffre d’affaires d’Avisa Partners aux États-Unis pourtant déjà conséquents de plus de 10 millions de dollars en trois ans d’existence soit 20 à 25% du chiffre d’affaires mondial. De plus, les activités de Forward Risk étant aussi spécialisée en intelligence économique, cette acquisition permet de renforcer les activités de la filiale américaine d’Avisa Partners surtout présente sur le domaine de l’influence.
Avec ce rachat Avisa Partners souhaite s’imposer comme un acteur de référence de l’intelligence économique aux États-Unis et en Europe et à terme comme un leader international de l’intelligence économique.
Avisa Partners is acquiring and integrating Forward Risk and Intelligence, which will now be known as Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company). Forward Risk will retain its existing and independent website, branding, leadership team and client roster, and its co-founders Luke DiMaggio, Andrew Wooster and Brendan Foo will become partners at Avisa.
A Washington, D.C.-based corporate investigations and risk advisory firm will be part of Avisa Partners, a public affairs, risk- and reputation-management company based in Paris, Avisa announced Wednesday.
Forward Risk and Intelligence LLC will be known as Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company). Its 30 employees will integrate into Avisa’s U.S. headquarters in Georgetown, said John Procter, an Avisa partner in D.C.
“Forward Risk’s capabilities, its track record and its physical presence here in Washington made it a natural fit not only for our firm, but for our clients,” Procter said in an interview with Law360 Pulse.
Investigations and research “was increasingly critical to the advisory role and the strategies that we’re developing for our clients,” he said.
Forward Risk co-founders Luke DiMaggio, Andrew Wooster and Brendan Foo will become partners at Avisa, whose clients include corporations, private equity and hedge fund investors, and law firms. Forward Risk will retain its website, branding, leadership team and client roster, Avisa said in the announcement. Forward Risk’s services include investigative due diligence, business intelligence research and international risk assessments
for financial institutions, corporations and law firms. Foo said the deal offers growth, stability and a global presence for Forward Risk, which was founded in 2016.
“All of that comes together to help us better serve our clients,” Foo told Law360 Pulse.
The companies declined to disclose the financial terms of the acquisition.
Foo said Forward Risk has worked extensively with law firms on shareholder activism matters. It also conducts investigative research for parties in complex litigation. Avisa opened its Washington location in 2019. More than 300 people work for the company, which also has offices in Brussels, London, Miami and Geneva.
Last year, Avisa acquired 35°Nord, a strategic communications and influence agency focused on Africa.
–Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.
Acquisition of Forward Risk latest example of Avisa Partners’ High-Growth Expansion Strategy
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Avisa Partners today announced the acquisition and integration of Forward Risk and Intelligence LLC, a firm that conducts investigative due diligence, business intelligence research, and international risk assessments for investors, corporations, and law firms.
The announcement follows Avisa’s recent rapid expansion within the U.S. market, and the December 2021 acquisition of 35°Nord, an agency specializing in communications and influence strategies on the African continent.
The unique services provided by Forward Risk, based in Washington, D.C., complement and integrate seamlessly with Avisa’s existing advisory offerings, delivering a competitive edge for global corporations, private equity and hedge fund investors, law firms, international institutions, and high-net-worth individuals.
“Avisa Partners delivers elite advisory services to global clients working to solve complex and challenging matters,” said Eric Bovim, CEO of Avisa U.S. “With Forward Risk on board, Avisa can now expand its data-driven solutions to include investigative due diligence, strategic intelligence, and compliance.”
Forward Risk and Intelligence LLC will now be known as Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company) and retain its existing and independent website, branding, leadership team, and client roster. The firm’s 30 employees will integrate into Avisa’s U.S. headquarters in Washington, and its co-founders – Luke DiMaggio, Andrew Wooster, and Brendan Foo – will become partners of Avisa, with the ability to provide value-added services to all of Avisa Partners’ global clients.
“Joining Avisa Partners is a perfect fit given their scale and diverse advisory solutions that will yield immediate value for our clients,” said Forward Risk co-founder Brendan Foo. “Our best-in-class offering combined with Avisa’s global reach make this a win for all involved.”
About Forward Risk and Intelligence
Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company) is a corporate investigations, intelligence, and risk advisory firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. The firm’s experienced and resourceful team conducts investigative due diligence, business intelligence research, risk assessments, candidate vetting, and other bespoke intelligence services for asset managers, private equity, law firms, multinational corporations, and political campaigns. The firm emphasizes value-oriented results through thorough research, sophisticated analysis, clear writing, and thoughtful presentation.
About Avisa Partners
Avisa Partners is a global risk and reputation management firm that provides a comprehensive suite of advisory services to clients worldwide. Avisa’s 300 professionals, working in six cities across the globe, offer an established track-record of success working with blue-chip clients across industries, sectors, and geographies. The firm develops custom solutions to multi-stakeholder commercial, reputational, legal, regulatory, and public-perception challenges.
In this OODAcast we interview one of our close friends and OODA network members, Jen Hoar.
Jen is a former journalist-turned-corporate investigator who has leveraged the potent act of asking, and listening, to turn strangers into sources and contacts into clients. Her expertise, which is clearly also her passion, is identifying and interviewing smart people about any given topic, to learn as much as possible to inform clients’ executive decision-making.
Harnessing her experience as a journalist and business intelligence practitioner, she has developed and delivered Human Intelligence for Business training for entrepreneurs, sales, private equity, business development and legal professionals. This training refines how to identify and contact knowledgeable people – prospective clients, partners, investors and subject matter experts – to harness unique insight from purposeful dialogue.
Jen Hoar leads human source intelligence work at Forward Risk.
She specializes in — and loves — finding and interviewing smart people about any subject. A former journalist, Jen first honed investigative prowess at ABC News, National Journal, and CBS News, and later by working with former CIA operations officials and prosecutors, among others, in boutique corporate intelligence firms in the Washington, DC, area.
Jen was also a founding member of a Facebook investigative team, where she worked on election integrity and information warfare issues. A proud double Hoya, Jen is nonetheless endeared to Fordham, where her parents were longtime professors.
By Josh Oswalt, Associate, Forward Risk and Intelligence
Picture this – after watching an episode of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, you become interested in learning more about your family’s history. You start writing down what you know about your parents’ and grandparents’ lives, you do some online research on popular websites like Ancestry.com and Geni.com, and you call up an older relative to take down some notes on their life experiences and family lore.
These sorts of approaches in genealogical research – fact checking, following leads, and utilizing personal identifiers – are also essential elements of other kinds of investigative work.
In fact, as an amateur genealogist myself, I was initially drawn to working at Forward Risk in part because our investigative research for clients – whether for shareholder activism, pre-investment background checks, strategic intelligence, or a wide range of other practice areas – involves methodologies that are strikingly similar to those used in genealogical research. These methodologies, when properly applied, can streamline the research process and provide significant value for clients.
Directly Researching Individuals in the Same Family
Consider the following scenario. Suppose that a client engages us to conduct research on a large family-run investment office with a highly international presence and multiple family members involved in management and financial dealings. No account of such an office would be complete without providing the client a detailed mapping-out of the financial and interpersonal relationships between these related individuals.
Back to Basics – Personal Identifiers as a Research Guide
Even in cases that don’t involve looking at multiple individuals in a family directly, genealogical research methodologies can provide important insights.
Consider another typical request from a client – they would like an investigations firm to conduct a pre-transactional investigation into a company executive as part of their due diligence process. Suppose that this executive is named John Jones – one might wonder where to begin, given how common this name is.
When looking into this executive, comprehensive investigative research would include any middle name, nicknames, name changes, and whether a parent or child shares the same name. As genealogists know, these name details and other personal identifiers such as dates of birth and residential information can be found in court records, county clerks’ records, censuses, Department of Motor Vehicles registrations, voter registrations, yearbooks, social media profiles, and a whole host of other sources.
Spanning the Globe – Multi-Jurisdictional Research Scopes
It is not unusual to have clients request research that spans not only multiple U.S. states but also multiple countries. Consider, for example, a client interested in gaining a comprehensive understanding of a company executive’s property holdings, financial dealings, and legal exposure across North America, Europe, and Asia.
This focus on comprehensiveness would also resonate with genealogists, many of whom are familiar with on-site records checks, inquiries into family properties passed down through the generations, and traveling to foreign countries to see the areas in which their ancestors may have once lived.
Crafting Narratives – Creating Holistic Profiles of Individuals
Identifying data points alone is not the goal of either genealogical research or investigative due diligence. In both cases, there is an interest in capturing a true profile of someone. A genealogist might ask: What was this person’s life like? Why did they make the choices in their life that they did? What did other people think of them, and are they noteworthy in history for some reason?
The best investigators ask questions in the same spirit: What is this executive’s professional track record, and are they likely to come under scrutiny on a new company board given their previous exposure to civil litigation or regulatory action? What do their former colleagues say about their management style, and are there any red flags? Do they have a history of making controversial statements on social media that might attract unwanted public attention?
These data points, when aggregated and analyzed, give clients unmatched visibility into not just what people and companies have done, but why they have done it. Connecting the dots creates a holistic profile of individuals and companies, leading to actionable insights for clients.
Human Intelligence – Testimonials from Lived Experience
Genealogical research is fundamentally community-oriented: getting insights and information is most often successfully achieved through building and drawing on the knowledge and lived experiences of others.
For example, an interview with one’s grandparent about their life can yield personal information about their family and life growing up that simply would not be accessible, visible, or knowable to the genealogist via other means. Adding this human element to the research process is a critical source of information.
In a similar way, the best investigators draw on sophisticated, bespoke, and carefully-curated interviews with individuals who are familiar at some professional level with the executives and industries about which clients would like to gain a greater understanding.
Targeted outreach to those individuals, who are able to speak with candor and professional authority on the topics in question, provides a separate stream of information that helps create a nuanced and informed individual portrait for clients.
The Bottom Line – Genealogical Expertise as a Differentiating Edge
When all of these insights are aggregated, it’s clear that expertise in genealogical research methodologies brings a differentiating edge for investigative due diligence.
These sorts of research projects are best handled by a creative, multidisciplinary team of investigators who will try out different approaches and look in places others might neglect or overlook. This is where genealogical expertise can add value on top of the skills honed through more traditional backgrounds such as journalism and law enforcement.
Josh Oswalt is an Associate at Forward Risk and Intelligence Inc., a corporate investigations firm with offices in Washington, DC and New York. More information can be found at www.forwardrisk.com.
Forward Risk managing director Jen Hoar was a featured guest on the September 27, 2022 episode of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money podcast. Jen discussed the corporate intelligence industry, demystifying and illuminating how we harmonize open source research and human source intelligence.
With the recent spate of CEO controversies, Jen highlights the importance of pre-investment due diligence on top executives to detect issues before they become reputational and financial hazards to investors working with them.
Forward Risk is pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss the nature and impact of our firm’s work on this national media platform.
We invite you to listen to this episode at the link below and welcome your questions and feedback.
Traditionally, investigative due diligence and political opposition research have been considered separate fields. While both can be considered branches of risk advisory work, rarely have the twain explicitly met in the middle – which is surprising, given the tremendous overlap between these highly complementary subfields. Ultimately, the currency of both political campaigns and proxy contests is the notion of influence. While traditional political campaigns aim to influence voters, proxy contests similarly influence shareholders. Lobbying firms, in turn, influence decision-makers. In all three cases, professional researchers provide the ammunition behind that influence, using the power of carefully unearthed information.
As a result, experienced due diligence analysts and opposition researchers share elements of tradecraft including familiarity with database-driven research, comfort and creativity working with open-source intelligence, and high levels of attention to detail on tight, high-stakes deadlines. As Forward Risk partner Brendan Foo, director Krystal Ramirez, and associate director Claire Vinocur noted in a recent Directors & Boards article, “The Politics of Proxy Contests,” corporate proxy contests in particular bear remarkable similarities to political elections – to such an extent that the article’s authors propose that those hunting for success in a proxy contest may take valuable lessons from politics.
As they point out, in both realms, “winning candidates tend to be those who have researched themselves and their audience, built and engaged with a coalition of constituent groups and power brokers, and articulated a message to prospective voters that encourages them to turn out to vote.” In other words, investigative due diligence and political opposition research have far more in common than not.
Commercial Due Diligence Versus Political Oppo: What’s the Difference?
So, if commercial due diligence and political opposition research draw on such similar skill sets, where does the difference lie? Primarily, their immediate context.
Despite the similarities in execution, we must keep in mind that findings in these two fields are tailored for fundamentally different audiences. An oppo researcher will customize their reporting to suit the needs of campaign’s communications and digital teams. Meanwhile, an investigator conducting research for a private sector due diligence project will aim to arm an investor with actionable business intelligence.
Lobbying firms are among the few client types that occupy something of a sweet spot between the public and private sectors. Although technically a private entity, the average lobbying firm builds its business model off an ability to sway political decision-making through the effective use of well-substantiated research and persuasion. In this sense, a lobbying firm has a foot apiece in two worlds: one strictly commercial, and one in the government sector. As government affairs-focused organizations, a knowledge of political campaigns and hot-button policy issues is crucial. However, unlike a political campaign itself, a lobbying firm’s lifeblood flows through its ability to generate commercial revenue.
Addressing the Unique Needs of the Modern Lobbying Firm
So, given that it treads a line between the public and private sector, where should a lobbying firm go to address its unique needs: the veteran oppo researchers with their fluency in government affairs, or the commercial due diligence outfit equipped with the resources and understanding of financial clients who do business with lobbyists? The answer, in an ideal world, is both.
While the average risk advisory firm may not have always focused traditionally on targeting campaign staff for their recruiting efforts, it’s not a bad idea. A seasoned oppo researcher’s skill set includes not only subject matter expertise in local and national political landscapes, but also a carefully-honed understanding of the right questions to ask. When placed alongside a commercial investigator’s business intelligence savvy, the risk advisory firm makes for a potent combination for supporting a lobbyist’s needs – particularly when it comes to building well-substantiated policy arguments.
Simply hiring the right mix of oppo and commercial intelligence professionals isn’t enough, however – the firm must have the know-how to combine their skills in an effective interdisciplinary manner. An excellent example of this is the application of stakeholder mapping. Traditionally a commercial intelligence subfield, a researcher versed in stakeholder mapping can essentially apply this so-called commercial intelligence “playbook” to a government affairs case. By consulting with a good opposition researcher on the same team, the stakeholder mapping expert can determine the specific pain points of who to lobby, and how.
Another example is the use of source inquiries. When public records alone do not suffice, a well-equipped risk advisory firm may employ a source inquiries expert to interview select individuals who may have personal contact with a subject of interest. Combined with oppo know-how, this additional research toolkit can pay tremendous dividends in the lobbying world, where accessing otherwise difficult-to-find reputational information is paramount.
Evidence of Hybrid Research Skills in Action
Countless examples illustrate the proof in the pudding regarding the success of an investigations firm that effectively employs researchers from both oppo and commercial intelligence backgrounds.
In one case, a government affairs firm required assistance for a client facing harassment from a political opponent in a foreign country. Combining the research know-how of investigators from both opposition research and traditional commercial intelligence backgrounds, Forward Risk’s investigative team was able to launch a deep dive investigation into local-language media and public records in several countries that ultimately uncovered a decades-long track record of involvement in organized crime, money laundering, and public corruption. Forward Risk developed both a detailed investigative report and a set of concise talking points to assist the government affairs firm in its discussions with key members of Congress.
In another case, a client requested that Forward Risk provide background information regarding several nominees for a major federal government position. The government agency in question held significant influence over potential business opportunities for the client due to the client’s investments in the industry. As a result, the client was interested in the shortlist of nominees for the position of agency chair.
Accordingly, Forward Risk leveraged a combination of traditional due diligence know-how and political vetting strategies in order to obtain the necessary information. In particular, Forward Risk’s team carefully identified the subjects’ views on specific policy areas most likely to impact the client’s investments in the industry area. As a result, the client was armed with information that would enable them to lobby for the nominee most beneficial to their business interests.
The phrases “open source” and “public record” are sometimes mistaken for “easy to find.” While it’s true that open source records are largely accessible to anyone, locating the relevant facts can be akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Many research projects necessitate the services of trained and experienced professionals. This applies especially for research that is investigative, requiring a systematic approach to discovering and exposing hidden facts.
This truth is not always clear. Lawyers, investors, and other white-collar professionals who occasionally conduct research as part of their normal job duties logically consider it one of their strengths.
The temptation to simply “Google it” is understandable.
However, there are serious drawbacks to an informal approach to investigative open source and public records research. Corporate intelligence, due diligence, background investigations, and litigation support require specialized techniques, devoting sufficient time and resources, and working on tight deadlines. In other words, investigative public records research should be treated as a specialized skill and service. Indeed, it is worth remembering the stakes involved in such projects. A mistake, error, or omission can have harmful consequences, such as:
A lawyer being unable to advance winning arguments in court because of incomplete or inaccurate facts, or an insufficient understanding of a party’s past conduct.
An individual with fabricated credentials, a shaky track record, or a history of misconduct being appointed to an executive role, or to a company’s board of directors.
A party to a proxy contest being caught unprepared for an adversary’s public criticism because they did not know about vulnerabilities with their board nominees or executive leadership.
An investor getting the go-ahead for a materially flawed deal because red flags were missed during due diligence.
Or, conversely, a lucrative investment opportunity being needlessly axed because of a supposed “red flag” that was not properly understood and contextualized.
But what really differentiates such a professional’s investigative research process from the more casual approach? The basics can be summed up as follows:
Broad Expertise and Adaptability
A corporate intelligence professional must have an advanced level of knowledge across several subject matter domains, including law, capital markets, finance, fraud prevention, international and domestic politics, real estate, media, and social media. A researcher must likewise be capable of quickly getting up to speed on a wide variety of different regions and industries.
On one recent matter, Forward Risk’s research into a South American businessman found mysterious business links to the sons of a high-level politician, disproving earlier claims that he separates his business life from his political activities. Assessing the issue required a close examination of business and financial records combined with a nuanced understanding of the political environment.
Access to Restricted Data Sources
Common access restrictions include hefty subscription costs, lack of online availability, and limitations on who is allowed to conduct searches. Data access varies tremendously state by state, and country by country. Investigative research specialists are experts in solving data access problems and ensuring that research is as accurate and comprehensive as possible.
For example, a client once asked us about a supposed “criminal” record that someone else had brought to them as a “red flag.” Forward Risk knew the state’s records well and used a subscription-based remote access portal to find out more. The matter turned out to be nothing more than a routine speeding ticket.
A trusted, licensed private investigations agency also has access to certain proprietary databases that must be used very carefully, and only in approved circumstances, because they contain sensitive personal data. These resources are very valuable for investigators.
For example, through the use of such databases, we have found addresses for vacation homes located far from where subjects ever claimed to live or work. With new geographic areas to focus on, we have been able to reorient our searches and uncover litigation and other risk issues that would otherwise have been missed.
Advanced Search Techniques
A simple error on search input, such as a misplaced comma or the lack of a necessary asterisk, can cause an inexperienced researcher to miss the project’s key finding. Failing to identify and account for name variations can ruin any name-based search. And when there are hundreds or thousands of results to sort through, a researcher must work carefully and strategically to home in on the important matters.
During a pre-investment due diligence project, a search on a very common name in California state courts resulted in dozens of “hits,” but few details were online about the cases. With investigative rigor, we narrowed the list of cases down to a handful of the matters most likely to be relevant. We were then able to engage a court runner to retrieve key documents, ultimately uncovering an allegation of violent conduct by the subject of our review.
A casual research approach will usually involve making assumptions about where relevant information is most likely to be found, and focusing all efforts on just those data sources. An effective methodology, however, covers a far wider array of searches, because key findings often show up in the least expected places.
One example is the practice of examining the track record of each company where a person has served on the board of directors. Less experienced researchers often skip this crucial step, or approach it in an insufficiently targeted fashion, thereby failing to develop truly actionable intelligence for clients.
In support of a proxy contest matter, we once found that a certain board nominee had previously been on the audit committee for a company accused of committing serious account fraud. When the proxy battle was settled, this nominee was not included on the board.
Time, Resources, and Experience
Someone who is not a full-time specialist in open source and public records research may waste much time and energy. It can take hours to simply figure out what records are available and how to search them. Investigative professionals have done this legwork already, and they can also leverage their past experience to avoid making costly missteps. Researchers can also brainstorm challenging problems and share best practices with their team or professional network.
Perhaps the most important value-add that a corporate intelligence professional provides is also the hardest to explain: the investigative instinct. Key qualities include curiosity, creativity, diligence, persistence, logical reasoning, and focus. Top-flight researchers know instinctively which leads to pursue (sometimes for hours), and which “rabbit holes” to avoid.
As just one example, a researcher’s meticulous review of county recorder data found a seemingly anodyne “agreement” filing, that upon closer inspection revealed a business executive’s personal financial distress.
These examples illustrate the value-add of a corporate intelligence professional in conducting open-source and public records investigative research. Once fully grasped, the contrast to an informal, casual approach is quite clear. Forward Risk’s professional researchers can save clients time and avoid costly mistakes by leveraging all of the information that open-source records can provide, leaving no stone unturned.
If you have any questions or comments, or would like to suggest a topic for further discussion, please email our Partner Dan Greenberg – dan [at] forwardrisk.com.
Daniel Greenberg is a Partner at Forward Risk and Intelligence Inc., a corporate investigations firm with offices in Washington, DC and New York. More information can be found at www.forwardrisk.com.