It’s pretty safe to say that the private investigator of the future is going to be doing business much differently than the ones who are working today. While I may not own a crystal ball, current trends point to a future that looks very different.
Here are some of my predictions.
There are a lot of lone wolves, or small investigative firms, out there. I don’t have the numbers to back this theory; this is just based on my personal experiences.
An industry dotted with solo operators can take you only so far. If this business is going to grow and thrive, there must be some consolidation.
We have already seen this in the works. In 2015, Westview Capital Partners invested in the James Mintz Group. There are some rumors swirling that there may soon be other consolidations and investments as well.
While we may not have a “Walmart of private investigations,” we may see more strategic partnerships where firms with specific skill sets can complement each other and operate independently yet cohesively to offer a wide variety of services.
More White Collar
Since Jules Kroll, founder of Kroll and the father of the modern corporate investigations industry, the private investigation business has gained more of a white-collar reputation. That trend continues today.
Why does this trend continue? In part because that is where the money is. Multinational corporations and international law firms have deep pockets and wealthy clients. Where there is money, there is opportunity.
Things such as internal investigations, strategic intelligence gathering, white-collar criminal defense, corporate criminal defense, anticorruption investigations, monitorships, corporate litigation support and reputational due diligence will continue to replace the old gumshoe work focused on cheating spouses, disability insurance claims, surveillance, workers’ compensation investigations and child custody cases.
Increased Privacy Restrictions
From the government monitoring the emails of ordinary citizens to Google tracking your every move to the legality of using drones, privacy has become a hot-button issue. If you ever have a conversation at a cocktail party about the information an investigator can obtain, you will hear equal amounts of surprise and outrage.
But as technology has become more advanced, the laws and regulations surrounding it have barely changed. My bet is that there will be federal laws drafted on the use of GPS devices to track individuals. And drone usage for things like surveillance will be illegal (don’t laugh — a Long Island, New York, private investigator and a California private investigator are already touting them).
It wouldn’t surprise me if the information that investigators can access readily (e.g., Social Security numbers, dates of birth and address histories) disappears as well.
The stealthy quick-witted old gumshoe is a dying breed. It’s not because the information that can be obtained from “boots on the ground” isn’t valuable — it’s just not a particularly effective method of gathering information when you consider the other ways of doing things.
Like mining Facebook and Twitter for witnesses to an accident instead of spending days knocking on doors.
Or going door-to-door to conduct face-to-face interviews when you can interview someone on the phone from halfway across the country.
Or gathering details of a person’s activities by monitoring social media instead of conducting days of surveillance.
What that means is that being the “local” investigator doesn’t matter all that much.
I don’t think the old gumshoe methods of face-to-face interviews, going door-to-door looking for witnesses or conducting all-night stakeouts will ever disappear, but these methods are certainly becoming more of an afterthought rather than a go-to method of gathering information.
Less gumshoe work means more technology. These days, you can find more information about a person in 10 minutes behind a computer than in days or weeks of investigation using the standard methods of as little as 15 years ago.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of data points that one can use to gather information from public records, open source intelligence and social media. As it stands today, there are a lot of manual processes that need to happen. And try finding patterns in these various data points without the help of a supercomputer.
But what if you had tools that can spit out patterns and connections from varying data sets? Like Google on steroids. That is already in the works. Memex, which was developed by the government, is effectively a search engine on steroids, which can search for things like the latitude/ longitude coordinates, embedded in photos and spot relationships
Every service industry has had to fight the battle of a highly specialized skill of a professional turning into another commodity. For example, web sites such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have made many simple legal services like wills, trusts and contracts accessible to nearly everyone. In our industry, competition for surveillance services is based primarily on price. Background checks have become a commodity too.
Some may argue that commoditizing a professional service is doomed for failure, but that won’t stop anyone from trying to disrupt an industry. FlimFlam is a startup that just raised $1 million for an app providing on-demand private detective services.
Will the services of a private investigator turn into just another commodity? Probably not completely, but my guess is that it will likely remain a force for the foreseeable future.
The Crystal Ball
So there you have it. Six ways I think the business will change in the coming years.
What does your crystal ball tell you?
I want to give a special thanks to Renee A. Cervo of Fact Quest who asked for me to contribute a piece to the California Association of Licensed Investigators Newly Licensed Investigator Training and Education class on the “The Future of Private Investigation.”