I have great respect for the community of forensic accountants, lawyers, litigation funders, law enforcement agencies and business intelligence professionals who deploy their skills in financial asset recovery globally. It’s an industry I have been involved in for decades. We battle our way through an ever-expanding amount of information - written and digital - using the tools and mechanisms at our disposal chasing positive outcomes for our clients that, even if they are achieved, can take years to materialise.
The time, cost and complexity of these processes is both enormous and unpredictable, with funders and investigators embarking on asset tracing projects knowing they are unlikely to recover all the monies owing and that the resources required could be disproportionate to the amounts recovered.
The good news is that our industry now has access to far more technology, with the use of bespoke artificial intelligence (AI) software in particular having the potential to be transformational. Using sophisticated algorithms, it is now possible to achieve far better outcomes in terms of speed, cost and accuracy, while also removing much of the complexity and unpredictability historically associated with locating undisclosed assets, particularly hidden bank accounts.
There are several AI platforms launching into the international asset recovery industry and this is an area of rapid technological change. AI offers the potential to transform asset recovery from an art form to a science. The GreyList Trace platform allows investigators to establish within just a few weeks whether there has ever been any contact between the email address, or addresses, of a person of interest and the 250,000-plus banks in the world. By combining algorithms with a sophisticated bank database, and without ever infiltrating a banks’ systems, GreyList can identify, with a very high degree of accuracy, all of the banks where an individual has a bank account or, has had one in the recent past.
There are two broad types of AI technology currently being deployed. The first is doing by machine what a human being used to do, including sweeping the entire web for visible and direct evidence of communications among two or more individuals. This can mean mining social media or trawling websites; an activity that an individual could do, but by using a machine that process can now be completed in a matter of minutes rather than months.
The second type of AI goes further and involves technology capable of doing more than any human. GreyList works by converting the email address of a person of interest into a piece of code whose interaction with a bank’s spam filters can be tracked and measured, at the same time adjusting for the highly variable speed and functionality of the global internet.
Despite the ongoing evolution of communications technology, the banking industry still relies on email addresses. Bank systems differentiate incoming emails and know immediately whether email addresses belong to customers or not. It takes only a couple of minutes of processing to prove conclusively whether two email addresses have ever communicated with each other. Building on this, GreyList can identify within a few weeks every bank in which an individual has an account.
The fact that the AI algorithms know no borders is key. We all know of cases that involve a company established in one jurisdiction that spawns a chain of companies in a series of additional jurisdictions until the ownership of the asset or bank account has passed through 30 companies in 30 countries, many of which still have some level of secrecy rules.
It is company number 30 that has the bank account where the money resides, and using conventional asset recovery techniques, finding that money would require following a very complex ownership chain. With GreyList, the technology goes straight to the answer: it finds the bank account at the end of the chain.
In one recent case, three individuals had been the subject of a detailed investigation into the alleged laundering of more than $4 billion (€3.5 billion) in drug money. By the time GreyList got involved, the matter had already been under investigation for more than five years. It took just six weeks to identify 11 banks in eight countries that these individuals had links to, several of which the agency doing the work was unaware of.
The critical thing for investigators is certainty. By deploying AI technology, accurate information can be delivered in a fixed time and at a fixed cost and all the results arrive simultaneously.
The asset recovery industry is professional and effective but faces many barriers and frustrations. AI has the potential to speed up many different elements of the recovery process. Human beings will continue to have a critical role to play, but as the toolkit available to the industry gets more sophisticated, we should all embrace the potential of AI.
- Nigel Nicholson is the CEO of GreyList Trace.
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