How Social Media Due Diligence Can Improve Investment Decisions
When assessing non-financial risk data as part of M&A due diligence, traditional checks currently pay little attention to investigating the online footprint of a target company. An organisation’s online activity, and indeed the online activity of its management teams, can provide valuable insight into reputation, culture, management personas and more.
Social media due diligence tools can be used to interrogate vast quantities of public online data, helping to identify potential business or personnel risks within the target company.
What social media due diligence tools can uncover
Contained within online public data is a wealth of previously untapped resources relating to both risk and opportunity. By combining natural language processing, AI and expert human analysis, risks can be identified that would not be uncovered using traditional due diligence processes.
When harnessed properly, this data can be used to provide a new dimension of analysis into non-financial risks and goes beyond the depth of insight provided by typical brand sentiment analysis.
Public perception can have a significant impact on the overall reputational health of an organisation, with online reviews granting consumers a previously unheard tool to provide feedback, evaluation and criticism.
Consistently poor consumer feedback of a product or service could be considered a red flag in terms of company reputation, and possibly even operational flexibility if the organisation has shown no willingness to improve over time.
Monitoring and evaluating consumer feedback can serve as a reflection, at least in part, of the “voice” of a company’s customer base.
Similarly to consumer voice, public employee feedback can act as a barometer for company performance and culture.
While websites such as Glassdoor have paved the way for employees to review workplaces, by interrogating all online public online data we can uncover a multitude of potential risks hidden from traditional feedback platforms.
Social media due diligence checks should also be used to help build a more complete picture of the character and attitude of management teams ahead of any deal.
Reviewing a management team’s online footprint can help highlight potential risks including damaging behaviours and misconduct – all of which can negatively impact the reputation and value of the target company in the present and future if left unchecked.
One previous example includes damning allegations of sexism and derogatory behaviour from staff towards their company’s CEO. Upon reviewing the report, our client decided not to continue with the deal – a decision that was reaffirmed when the CEO of the target company hit the press a year later.
The impact of public online reputation on businesses and value
Significant behavioural issues of staff should also be considered particularly seriously considering the damaging impact that “cancel culture” can have on an organisation’s value.
In what is now a renewed age of social activism, amplified by movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too, it’s imperative that a potential buyer pays attention to what’s being said about a target company on social media.
The mass withdrawal of support for a person or company due to their public or online behaviour, whether labelled “cancel culture” or not, will have clear implications for the reputation and value of a business. The reputational impact of this type of activism can also spread beyond the subject entity, proving damaging to investors and parent companies also if left unchecked.
Understanding all of the risks
Social media due diligence can clearly uncover pertinent information to aid traditional checks, when harnessed correctly. The vast quantities of associated data combined with the need for objectivity means that the right third party tools should always be used.
Neotas’ proprietary open source due diligence tools combined with extensive experience can be used to provide deeper insights to help inform investment decisions. Our checks process 100% of publicly available data in over 200 languages, leaving no stone unturned when investigating relevant investment risks.
It is crucial that appropriate care and context is given to risks uncovered during social media due diligence checks, especially considering the natural negativity bias of online reviews. Neotas reports provide zero false positives, enabling resources to be committed to reviewing real risks only.
For global acquisitions and investment activities, particular care should be taken when considering international data privacy legislation and as such, an ISO-certified third party provider like Neotas should always be used.
While the market continues to steady and confidence rises of a full bounce-back, the uncertainty of the global health crisis means that major challenges could continue to lie ahead.
KPMG reported that the momentum that began to pick up pace in Q4 of 2020 was fuelled by pent-up demand that had started to be released. Although the appetite for deal-making is clearly growing, with increased activity comes the need for increased scrutiny – particularly during this era of uncertainty.
The potential for future challenges caused by restrictions, global downturns or even other viral threats means we must embrace all available risk-data to help improve decision-making.
Moving Past Traditional Due Diligence
With so much at stake, it absolutely pays to know more in today’s ever-changing landscape. Traditional due diligence procedures may tick all of the legal and regulatory boxes for the time being, but we believe it’s time to go beyond these practices and supplement them with additional data streams.
Ensuring that a comprehensive management due diligence strategy is in place before an investment or deal takes place will help lower risks.
MDD ensures individuals are scrutinised independently and forensically, lowering the risk from dealing with new associates. It helps assure investors that accountable individuals are competent enough to deliver success and growth without harming the reputation of their enterprise. Ensuring that social media activity is analysed, for instance, can provide insights into management team behaviours and attitudes that would otherwise not be uncovered through traditional due diligence methods.
In a digital era, a data-led approach that considers all risk angles is critical and management due diligence using open source data should contribute to that risk-evaluation.
These methods go beyond what is uncovered as part of traditional due diligence – evaluating the attitude and aptitude of individuals and firms, ensuring they comply with regulatory guidelines as well as identifying potential conduct or financial crime risks.
Risks uncovered have included allegations of discrimination and abusive behaviour, data leaks, fraudulent behaviour and corruption, to name but a few. While these potential red flags remain operationally relevant, they would not be uncovered using traditional due diligence methods.
Know exactly who you’re working with
It’s often said that people are the biggest asset of any business and it’s essential to consider “people risk” ahead of any deal or acquisition. Effective management due diligence removes subjective and unintentional bias from your decisions, providing vital third-party validation so you can proceed confidently, with no stone left unturned.
Any possible absence of face-to-face due diligence, whether through travel restrictions or remote operations, has made it more difficult to evaluate attitude and aptitude. Analysis of online behaviour not only provides an additional layer of depth to traditional due diligence but also enables a higher level of inspection when operating remotely.
An Example: Recent Case Involving Abusive CEO
A recent case of management due diligence uncovered insights into a CEO that were not captured during traditional due diligence checks.
While reviewing the management team of an investee company, particular focus was directed towards the CEO after allegations of potentially damaging behaviours began to appear.
Our reports highlighted a number of negative employee reviews, allegations of “explosive and abusive” behaviour and a troubling history of discriminatory, aggressive behaviour on social media towards colleagues and other users.
The insights uncovered as part of the enhanced open source checks fed into the decision-making process for our client, raising questions and concerns about the suitability of the client. None of these behaviours were identified as part of their traditional checks.
Proactive Protection – Identify Risks Before They Become Problems
Proactively identifying irregularities, risks or potentially damaging behaviours amongst management teams can help manage future challenges and protect ongoing interests once a deal is made.
Indeed, risks that may be hazardous to long term company value, productivity or culture can be addressed early by harnessing the correct data. Potential reputational crises associated to people risk can also be proactively identified, managed and mitigated with enough warning time and a clear enough picture of the risks.
Whilst our reports can, and often do, influence investment decision-making, our position continues to be to identify the risks and leave future decisions up to our clients. Even when the information doesn’t drastically impact the end-decision, the overwhelming positive feedback we receive from clients centres around new and cost effective level of insight that would otherwise not have been uncovered.
Harnessing Public Data Could Be Key Decision Dealbreaker or Dealmaker
Neotas searches harness 100% of publicly available data to grant our clients a new layer of insight into pre-investment risk. We dig deeper and faster into people, entities and networks – analysing them against a set of core risk indicators including abusive behaviour, fraudulent activity, multiple aliases and more.
In a hyper-competitive marketplace that is now seemingly riding a wave of pent-up demand for deals, asset managers have a responsibility to consider all risk data as part of their due diligence processes.
The potential impact for not considering the data from a regulatory and a reputational point of view is stark. Regulators now regard OSINT as best practice when discussing enhanced due diligence processes. With the information on risk out there and readily available, it may hard to build a competent defence in the case of future allegations of non-compliance or in a crisis management situation.
We are here to lower risk from investment, acquisitions and purchases, enabling you to build teams you can trust whilst protecting your reputation robustly. Schedule a call with our team today to discuss your investments, management due diligence or any other open source intelligence needs
An Investigation Into England Euro 2020 Social Media Abuse Using Open Source Intelligence
Following the targeted racist attacks towards members of the England football team after the final of Euro 2020, Neotas have conducted an investigation into the online abuse.
After Twitter had publicly shared the results of their “proactive” action taken following the final, we focused on Twitter and analysed whether their clean-up effort had been sufficient in identifying and punishing the harmful behaviour.
A Momentous Occasion Marred
The 2020 EURO UEFA European football championships, commonly referred as EURO 2020, was held from 11th June 2021 to 11th July 2021 across various locations in Europe.
The Final match was played on 11th July 2021 at Wembley Stadium, London between England and Italy. Italy won the tournament, beating England 3-2 in a penalty shoot out following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
For England, 5 players took the penalties; Harry Kane and Harry Maguire were successful in scoring. However, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their spot kicks, resulting in Italy winning the championship.
In a game that was marred by multiple incidences of fan violence and unruliness in the build up to and during the match, the tone was lowered further when racial abuse was aimed at the three players who missed their penalties.
Such was the escalation of the story, members of the Royal Family, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other government agencies weighed in to condemn the attacks, demanding that action was taken to punish the offenders.
The Metropolitan police opened an investigation on the offensive and racist social media posts that has since seen 11 people charged. The social media platforms themselves continue to claim to have responded in the strongest way possible, with Twitter removing more than 1,000 tweets initially and permanently suspending multiple accounts.
Twitter has since claimed to have removed approximately 1,600 Tweets, accounting for around 90% of abuse. Our investigation immediately discovered an additional 70 that were deemed abusive, racist or threatening in some way.
Previous meetings with the major football associations of England had resulted in Facebook essentially leaving the onus on the players and clubs to protect themselves, rather than the platform proactively protecting its users. The platform has since made changes that have been deemed insufficient by players and associations thus far.
While Twitter is just one of a number of major platforms to have been used to facilitate the abuse, it has shouldered much of the attention so far and has shared the most robust and open responses to date. Twitter published this update on the 10th August, following continued public discourse about the online abuse:
“Following the appalling abuse targeting members of the England team on the night of the Final, our automated tools, which had been in place throughout Euro 2020, kicked in immediately to identify and remove 1622 Tweets during the Final and in the 24 hours that followed.
While our automated tools are now able to detect a majority of the abusive Tweets we remove, we also continue to take action from reports. New vectors of abuse are ever-emerging, which means our system is having to adapt on an ongoing basis. Therefore, to supplement our efforts, trusted partners are able to report any further Tweets directly to our front-line enforcement teams. In total, over 90% of the Tweets we removed for abuse over this period were detected proactively.”
Twitter’s own analysis into the violating accounts is ongoing, but their initial findings concluded:
The UK was – by far – the largest country of origin for the abusive Tweets removed on the night of the Final and in the days that followed
That ID verification would have been unlikely to prevent the abuse from happening – as the accounts we suspended themselves were not anonymous
Only 2% of the Tweets we removed following the Final generated more than 1000 Impressions
The update from Twitter has helped continue the conversation relating to the abuse faced by the England players at Euro 2020, as well as the more general issue of online abuse.
Twitter have announced the trial rollout of the following actions to help curb the racist interactions on their platform:
A new feature that temporarily autoblocks accounts using harmful language
Reply prompts, which encourage users to revise their replies to Tweets when it looks like the language they use could be harmful
What isn’t clear is how these tools include evaluation of visual media such as images, videos and emojis – something which was prevalent and consistent amongst our limited searches.
Our Insights – Focus On Twitter
Our data analysts are experts in identifying behavioural risks hidden in online data. This can, and often does, include aggressive, discriminatory and abusive behaviour linked to social media profiles. The activity can be active (posted or shared by the subject in question) or passive (linked to, shared or associated with the subject in question).
The data we search is called open source intelligence (OSINT) and is 100% publicly available, however only experts like Neotas have the skillset to interrogate it fully and provide adequate context.
Following Twitter’s announcement that they had removed 90% of abuse within a few days of the final, we conducted a limited search and uncovered more than 40 profiles still active on Twitter. Those accounts that had shared approximately 70 tweets containing discriminatory abuse directed towards the England team. This was following the initial response from Twitter and after the police had opened their investigation.
Of the abusive accounts uncovered in our findings, 83% of them were based in the UK – a figure that correlates directly with Twitter’s declaration that the vast majority of attacks were from UK accounts.
More than 90% of the abusive tweets we discovered were sent after the initial “clean up” from Twitter. While the recent update suggests that the platform is continuing to investigate, our findings suggest that 95% of the accounts we discovered remain active with the vast majority of them still containing the offensive content.
While there was a lot of general criticism and aggression directed towards the England team following their crushing defeat, here is a breakdown of the abuse faced by the three players who missed their penalties:
Racism was the most common theme amongst the responses found, with a large number of accounts including visual content such as images, videos and emojis to emphasise their aggression. Marcus Rashford, who was the overwhelming target of the responses we found, also faced repeated attacks over his charitable work and philanthropy.
In-line with Twitter’s announcement, a large number of the assailants were easily discoverable. Using OSINT, we were able to fully identify at least 6 real people behind the attacks, including information including their real names, contact details, addresses and places of work. With further investigation, we are confident that we would be able to discover more.
The results uncovered as part of our research represent just a small section of the total online activity following the final and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our data interrogation capabilities. While for this exercise we focused primarily on Twitter, there are undoubtedly similar cases across other platforms including Facebook and Instagram. OSINT can easily be harnessed to interrogate all online activity, including social media channels.
The attacks and vitriol directed at the England football team at Euro 2020 was just the latest in a seemingly never-ending cycle faced by sports stars and by the wider online community.
Debates continue as to whether using ID to set up social media accounts is the way to tackle this endemic problem, but what’s clear is that many of these users can already be tracked. Our Director Ian Howard wrote previously of the need to embrace technology to fight the issue, arguing for the use of open source intelligence (OSINT) to help detect, verify and punish those caught being abusive on the platforms.
It is important to note that almost all of the accounts identified by Neotas and by Twitter were traceable, while many are still active and just 11 have been charged to date.
In real terms this means that many of those who sent out vile, abusive messages following the final returned to work the following day without employers knowing about their true character.
Businesses have a duty to protect their employees from risk and should use all available methods to help monitor and safeguard their staff’s wellbeing.
The use of employment screening tools like social media screening can help identify high-risk behaviours and will lower the risks of abusive behaviour within the workplace. These tools can and should be used to screen prospective hires, particularly those in senior roles, as well as current employees.
How Non-Financial Risk Indicators Can Improve Credit Risk Due Diligence
“Credit risk is more than just financial models. There’s a whole series of non-financial data points that can be used to help make those decisions better.” – Ian Howard, Neotas
Managing and mitigating post pandemic risk
For financial institutions, managing and mitigating risk has become an increasingly difficult task following the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ongoing uncertainty has made forecasters’ and risk managers’ jobs more difficult than ever and new due diligence methods are being adopted constantly to help evaluate risks more clearly.
Credit risk in particular has faced distinct challenges and implications through the crisis – with a lack of pertinent data on crisis conditions, changes in credit worthiness and a “large wave of non-performing exposures” needing to be addressed.
To help manage the risk for lenders, new approaches must be adopted that are fit for purpose in a changing landscape. Enhanced credit risk due diligence procedures should be adopted to dig deeper into non-financial risk indicators surrounding companies and entities.
A business’ resilience to post-pandemic fallout will vary depending on the organisation, its processes and, crucially, the people within the business. Institutions looking to mitigate risks in an uncertain landscape should be embracing all of the financial and non-financial data points at their disposal to help improve decision making.
How is credit risk currently being assessed?
The rapid, ever-changing nature of the pandemic has led to many financial institutions adapting quicker than they ever have before. By looking through a different lens and utilising readily available data such as non-financial data points, you can better predict the performance of entities.
Traditional borrower credit risk is usually evaluated by considering the financial position of the borrower, market position, industry specific characteristics and, finally, the quality of the management.
What was once a structured, well-established credit risk assessment has now been turned on its head.
Although many institutions have adapted their credit risk due diligence processes, those who aren’t embracing a data-led approach, including non-financial data points, are left evaluating credit risk with limited visibility and an uncertain path ahead of them.
The Credit Risk Implications of the Coronavirus Pandemic
We cannot rely on outdated financial reporting
With the dawn of the pandemic, many conventional sources of typical credit risk data became obsolete overnight. Where previously a high degree of importance would have been placed on financial reporting, even with the typical 6-12 month lag, the relevance of those figures decreased rapidly as markets crashed and industries were rocked.
While many industries were halted by the pandemic, some prospered. What’s true in all cases though is that none have experienced a typical trading period through that time. As a result, the robust, quantitative financial data that normally forms the cornerstone of credit risk due diligence becomes significantly less reliable.
So how then do we evaluate the parties in question? While some form of reporting delay may feel inevitable, it is time to engage with alternative solutions to help bolster risk-modelling. By considering non-financial data points such as customer reviews, worker voices and more, we are able to build a more complete picture of the current performance of the company.
We are beginning to see an emergence of a reliance on qualitative non-financial factors, to counter the shortage of concrete financial data:
“Banks have long relied on qualitative factors, which they seek to use as objectively as possible, to counter the shortage of more concrete financial data. These banks now also explore publicly available data as a means of cross-checking and validating qualitative information.” – McKinsey, 2021
Using non-financial data for better risk modelling
At present, public online data is a largely untapped resource when it comes to credit risk due diligence. Open source intelligence can deliver a significantly greater level of understanding of who you’re doing business with and the potential risks associated with them.
Our own enhanced due diligence checks enable our clients to evaluate financial and non-financial risk data. The non-financial data points considered as part of our credit risk due diligence service would include:
Management due diligence
Public customer reviews
Worker voice assessments
With so much uncertainty currently surrounding quantitative financial data, the benefits of additional data sources are clear – including behavioural factors. Placing greater emphasis on the C & A in the CAMPARI model – Character and Ability – can help improve decision making by considering wider risk factors than purely financial factors.
While character and skillset alone are not enough to ensure the credit worthiness of a business, when combined with other assessment factors, they can prove to be valuable resources for evaluating the resilience of a business in challenging circumstances.
Pandemic Uncertainty Leads To Forecasting Difficulties
Traditional credit risk analysis includes evaluating backward looking actuals and forward looking forecasts. In present conditions, that task is more difficult than ever.
While many have predicted continued economic contractions in global GDP, the true fallout of the downturn may be felt for years to come. Although recovery is expected, the expectation is for it to be slow.
The rate of recovery will differ by region, by industry and by organisation. While some have seen profits boom over the last 18 months, many others have faced sustained challenges. The importance of those elements must be considered as part of the risk analysis, where a sector-based approach will not be sufficient and more tailored considerations should be made.
For those dealing internationally, the picture complicates further. With many global economies in different stages of recovery or suppression, relying solely on outdated financial data or recovery forecasts would be unwise.
Time To Adopt Data-led Approach Is Now
With most firms seeking every available opportunity to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to investing or lending, the adoption of a more data-led credit risk approach was inevitable.
While the pandemic may have accelerated the process for some institutions, the advantages of adopting these additional tools are clear. Going beyond traditional processes and considering all available risks enables quicker, more informed decisions – while having greater understanding of those you’re working with also comes with a host of clear benefits.
Our proprietary technology is able to process vast quantities of data that are left unindexed by traditional credit risk sources. By diving deeper into analysing public data, our clients are able to make better informed, lower risk and ultimately more profitable decisions.
We are also able to offer our clients the benefits of our Ongoing Monitoring service. Perfect for fast-moving markets, this service uses our AI-driven technology to consistently evaluate and identify emerging risks and threat opportunities. Clients are able to monitor ongoing risks, without false positives.