Corporate Insights

Winner of the Innovation Concepts Award in the category for emerging enterprises

How the Zondo Commission inspired automated lifestyle assessment

It was March 2020 and Siham Boda and George Nicholls , cofounders of Corporate Insights, were listening to the testimony being given at the Zondo Commission on State Capture.

“We both have forensic backgrounds and know that one of the best ways to look into collusion and impropriety is a lifestyle assessment,” says Siham, the CEO. “But conducting a lifestyle assessment is an incredibly manual process, and it is usually done after an incident has occured,” she says.

That can be quite a long time, considering that fraud doesn’t happen in a day and is more like a “slow puncture” than a tyre burst.

It was clear from the hair-raising testimony on the extent of the skulduggery under state capture that new and faster ways were needed to carry out lifestyle assessments.

The question Siham and George asked themselves was: Is there  a way to automate a  lifestyle assessment  and what if it could look at the whole payroll of an organisation, all suppliers and vendors and all associated directors and be “always on”?

They set to work on building a fully automated platform, using artificial intelligence and designed algorithms and “fantastic” software to pick up red flags for fraud – before it has even happened.

“By March 2021, we had our first paying customer,” says Siham. In the year since then, Corporate Insights’ clients have conducted around 120 000 lifestyle assessments and where some clients have a payroll in excess of  5 000 which is processed every month.

“The shift has been monumental,” she says. “Where it used to take a team of 11 people a year to do 100 manual lifestyle assessments, we can do 5 000 in 15 minutes once we receive the data.”

Better still, the solution can look at least a few months ahead for potential problems and tag anyone who seems to be of concern. One of the advantages of this is that companies can discretely pre-empt problems – for itself and for its employees, Siham says.

For example, one of Corporate Insights’ clients discovered that a call centre agent was accessing a microlender twice a month at extortionate rates. The client then conducted an assessment of the entire call centre and found that 80% of its staff were in financial distress (often as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, when staff were under pressure from family members to assist financially).

“That is how microlending syndicates get access to organisations – and to their information,” Siham says.  

The company’s response was to hold a series of seminars on personal financial management for employees. “It invited people discreetly and got in a debt counsellor. People learnt the skills to manage their budget and deal with pressure from family members.” The company itself bought off the loans of employees who came forward for help and restructured these loans at a much more affordable rate.

Siham adds that the solution was designed to be fully compliant with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and its findings have a confidence level, conservatively, of 95%.

“Our hope is that automated lifestyle assessment will cause a cultural shift, a culture of doing what is right, not just to safeguard organisations against fraud and corruption but because they want to be ethical businesses.”

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