This is the fourteenth instalment in a series of articles for the readers of Risk Xtra where we shine the spotlight on NSI-approved businesses for the benefit of risk and security managers who purchase security guarding as well as systems-focused solutions. Answering our questions on this occasion is Eyal Ben Cohen, CEO of Verifile.
Risk Xtra: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
Eyal Ben Cohen: Verifile is an independent background screening provider focused on providing accurate data and building long-term relationships with its customers. We’re passionate about creating transparency within a workforce. We believe that high performing teams typically operate in a culture of openness, honesty and mutual respect. Such a culture gives rise to effective collaboration, innovation and improved productivity.
Creating that sort of culture is a significant undertaking for any organisation. We don’t claim to be able to deliver that on our own, but we can play our part with our comprehensive candidate background checks.
In making sure that every one of their employees is everything that they claim to be, we don’t just want to reassure businesses that their recruitment decisions are correct and that their people risks are being satisfactorily managed. We also want to contribute to that culture of truth and openness.
By providing transparency, we believe we can draw a line under those unhelpful conversations where employees may doubt a colleague’s credentials, their work history, their academic qualifications or their ability to do their job.
Those conversations stem from employees knowing more (or thinking they know more) about a person than the recruiter, line manager or HR team ever appeared to. This can quickly lead to distrust between colleagues, which then makes for a dysfunctional team.
We want those conversations to be consigned to the past. As screening (both pre- and post-employment) becomes a more established part of corporate life, that will soon be the case.
At that point, we’ll be delighted to have played our part. Not just because we love our work, the necessary attention to detail and all the investigative elements that come with it, but also because we’re committed to creating transparency in the workforce.
Based in the UK, we’ve been operating in the background screening sector since 2004 and have serviced over 2,000 organisations in that time. Our screening model is underpinned by exceptional information security and proprietary technology, delivering accuracy and consistency in everything we do. We work collaboratively with our clients to create effective screening programmes tailored to meet their precise requirements.
Risk Xtra: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
Eyal Ben Cohen: I think clients really value the way in which we combine efficient processes with a passion for excellent customer service. They appreciate how we use technology to automate manual processes, improve the accuracy of our data and reduce the pain that candidates and clients can feel in collecting the background information required for screening.
They know that our technology is integrated directly to a vast array of data sources such as the Disclosure and Barring Service and Equifax and that we can offer international background screening services in over 174 countries.
The range of checks we offer includes criminal records, credit and financial, identity verification, driving license and even company credit. We can also provide many specialist checks for specific industries, in turn helping our clients to comply with a range of standards and practices. Throughout it all, however, we only ever use official channels, not any other databases or unofficial sources.
Despite the pressures to drive costs down in this market, we refuse to follow other major suppliers in off-shoring or outsourcing any of our operations. In fact, over 30 other background screening providers use us as their third party data intermediary, providing further proof of the extent of our range of international checking services.
I think our clients are reassured by the rigour employed within our research and compliance process, as this means they will not have to take any unnecessary risks during their recruitment processes.
They also appear to value the human touch we bring to the process. Automation may be increasingly common in all aspects of modern day business, but we believe in retaining a strong human element within all of our screening processes. We never forget that we’re dealing with real people – candidates working their way through a recruitment process that could mean so much to them and employers desperately keen to hire the right person.
Our human contribution to the process comes across in how we interpret the data, how we understand the people-related risks facing our clients’ businesses and how we challenge them on what their screening requirements really are. That final point is incredibly important. Presented with a set of screening requirements that we feel doesn’t go far enough to meet a client’s needs, we’ll say so – and then we’ll demonstrate how we could build a deeper, more fit-for-purpose process for them.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
Eyal Ben Cohen: Accreditations have assisted Verifile in both its operation and growth. Verifile boasts many accreditations for its security, quality and people-focused operation, among them Investors in People (Silver), NSI Gold (BS 7858). Cyber Essentials Plus, ISO 27001 (Information Security), ISO 9001 (Quality Management) and ISO 14001 (Environmental Management).
Accreditations are important to us as they help in demonstrating to clients, suppliers, employees and candidates alike that we adhere to the highest possible standards.
Since being accredited for NSI Gold in January this year, we’ve also received the Silver Award from Investors in People. We constantly work on improvements and recognition. Indeed, the business is currently focusing on some initiatives which will add more accreditations in the coming months.
Risk Xtra: Specifically, what value do ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
Eyal Ben Cohen: British Standard 7858 is an important framework for conducting background checks in highly secure environments. We value the input and advice we receive from our NSI auditor. As an expert in the field, the NSI can help guide our decision-making. Many of our clients have similar requirements for adherence with the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) and the NSI. With this approval, Verifile not only proves itself to be a quality service provider, but can also serve a larger segment of the security business sector.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel technology has changed the industry over the last couple of years and what do you believe will be the direction of travel in the future?
Eyal Ben Cohen: Technology has indeed changed the industry over the last couple of years and will continue to do so. We see it as a critical part of our future business which is why we plough over 10% of our turnover into technology R&D.
In recent years, we’ve been able to integrate our screening platform with our clients’ HR systems, allowing them to use our services directly within their preferred system. Integration with data sources has allowed us to reduce manual processes and turnaround times while increasing accuracy, making screening services more affordable. Filling out forms has become a lot quicker with far fewer mistakes thanks to the technology available.
We’ve also seen increased usage of mobile devices from both clients and candidates. The use of document scanning via mobile devices means that uploading can be conducted ‘on the go’ with no need to be at the office or use expensive scanning equipment.
The move towards paperless processes such as cloud-based storage has meant that clients no longer need to manage enormous paper archives, while more robust ID verifications for document validation and digital identity mean that we no longer have to rely on candidate documents.
The use of online forms for candidates – in our case featuring our candidate portal – complete with interactive guidance tools and SMART validations has undoubtedly reduced the margin for error.
Thinking ahead to how technology may continue to drive change within Verifile, three areas spring to mind. First, there’s the continued integration of our software with even more data sources, thereby removing the need for any time-consuming manual checks.
Next up, there’s Artificial Intelligence (AI). We’re already assessing how AI might be used to automate some of the simpler screening tasks. However, we’ll never let this replace the human elements of the process that we believe add so much value.
Finally, there’s benchmarking, data analysis and predictive analytics. Working collaboratively with clients, we’re investigating what an analysis of their screening data might reveal about their recruitment processes and how they might be refined. Correlate this data with other datasets the client holds (about on-boarding, staff performance or retention, for example) and the insights we generate become potentially even more valuable.
We think it’s no exaggeration to say that the data and insights generated by the checks we perform could become as valuable in the long-term as the checks themselves are in the short-term.
Risk Xtra: When it comes to negotiating contracts and responding to tender requests, what aspects are of most value to customers and how are these changing?
Eyal Ben Cohen: Customers can be nervous about data protection and the accuracy of data so the General Data Protection Regulation is a hot topic at the moment, as is information security. The more online and paperless our services become, the more that customers seem to focus on these areas when evaluating our services. This is one of the reasons why we’re investing so much in accreditations and certifications.
That shift towards more paperless records and processes is why the technology behind our services always proves to be of great interest to clients and prospects. Globalisation seems to play an increasing part in their tender requests as well. Clients need to source talent from around the world and so they’re looking for a solution provider that can offer an international service rather than solely a domestic one.
The legal landscape is constantly changing and, in turn, affecting screening in many ways. Today’s clients seem to place a lot of importance on working with a screening provider that can educate them about any such changes and guide them through the resulting process.
Background screening is an unregulated industry. There are no barriers to entry. On that basis, customers value background screening companies they can trust and with whom they can build long-term partnerships. It feels like it almost goes without saying, but they’re also constantly looking to drive down costs, so cost-effective and value-for-money solutions are the order of the day.
One final – but incredibly important – consideration is that businesses want to work with suppliers who can deliver an excellent candidate experience. After all, no-one wants their candidates to walk away from the hiring process because of a bad experience. No client wants to (or should have to) put up with dated systems, unresponsive providers, data errors, quirky systems or candidate complaints.
Customers are demanding clear Service Level Agreements with precise definitions of expected outputs, quality procedures and turnaround times. This is what makes background screening one of the more challenging stages of the recruitment process. It’s also absolutely right that clients challenge us in this way, though. There’s huge competition in the jobs market so, unless the screening process is conducted quickly and effectively, candidates will soon find another opportunity.
Risk Xtra: How has Government legislation (eg the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and changes to holiday pay) affected your business? Do you believe such legislation is a good thing?
Eyal Ben Cohen: Verifile has come under pressure from clients to reduce costs, maintain a high-quality service and invest in modernisation. The National Living Wage has continued to increase in a climate of high employment. Paying higher wages is a key way in which to attract and keep the quality of staff so critical to a successful business.
Despite these challenges, across the last five years we’ve reduced the costs to clients in real terms by investing heavily in technology and process improvement, yet still significantly increased the salaries paid to staff.
Risk Xtra: What are the most important attributes you look for in security officers and staff members in general?
Eyal Ben Cohen: It’s essential that we not only attract and retain staff with the right skills, but also the right traits in line with our company values. Every member of staff, as well as our contractors, has been vetted to BS 7858:2012 criteria. We screen to a higher level than BS 7858 requires. Demonstrating our commitment to Best Practice, our screening period is ten years while BS 7858 only requires five.
Among the traits we look for in our team members are customer service knowledge, excellent analytical skills (the ability to review a completed screening form and identify gaps, trends and issues in the information provided by candidates), proficient organisation skills, a confident, professional and tactful phone manner, outstanding interpersonal skills, exemplary attention to detail, a questioning mind and the capability to record information quickly and accurately.
We also look for ‘trouble-shooters’ who can think outside the box to obtain information from candidates, as well as team players with a proactive attitude and the ability to multi-task who can, ideally, speak more than one language. An understanding of different cultures is also desirable as we’ve learned that successfully gaining references in some parts of the world depends on this as much as it does on speaking the language.
Risk Xtra: How can the SIA, the NSI and industry standards best serve the sector in addition to the needs of your company’s clients and the wider public interest?
Eyal Ben Cohen: The SIA and the NSI should continue to train and educate on matters impacting risk mitigation. Screening is a great way to reduce risk and lessen the cost of hiring new staff. Promoting quality of data is also key.
Eyal Ben Cohen
Time in security business sector
Originally, I worked for a major Internet Service Provider as its market development manager. I devised the original idea for Verifile just days before beginning my MBA course at Cranfield University. When a Brinks employee was found to have used a fake ID to gain employment as a truck driver, I saw a gap in the market for background screening services. After winning several prizes for my ideas on background screening, I then established Verifile post-graduation in 2004. I’ve run the business from a start-up and overseen its development to what it is today: a multi-million pound company employing over 100 staff. We’ve enjoyed 20% annual growth in recent years
Location of the business
Verifile operates from its headquarters in Bedford. This location plays host to all of our operational staff, client and candidate relationship teams, account managers, our leadership team and software developers. We’re based 100% in the UK, although our service provision is worldwide
Areas of expertise
Global background screening provider
Accreditations held by the company
ISO 27001 Information Security Systems, ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, Cyber Essentials Plus, NSI Guarding Gold, Investors in People Silver Award. We are also working towards some further accreditations over the next 12 months
About the National Security Inspectorate
The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) is a wholly-independent, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and operates as a UKAS-accredited certification body specialising in the security and fire safety sectors.
For over 40 years, the NSI has served to protect businesses, homeowners and the general public alike, raising standards by providing robust and high quality audits of both security and fire safety service providers.