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Focus On: Financial Services Practice

September 2021
 by Fred Duff Gordon

Focus On: Financial Services Practice

September 2021
 By Fred Duff Gordon

Our financial services partner Fred Duff Gordon takes time out to talk about how he works with financial services clients and special situations. He tells us about his areas of interest and expertise, and discusses emerging changes in the online reputation space and the implications for Digitalis and our clients.

  1. Tell us a little about your background, your practice area and how you came to be a partner at Digitalis.

I started out advising international banks on how to position their lending and trading businesses in the UK, and specifically how desks with overseas operations could project that expertise into the right UK markets. I also helped market infrastructure providers to navigate a remarkable period of regulatory-driven growth opportunity, working with market data and risk management providers across the capital markets. After eight years advising the ‘sell side’ at Moorgate Group, I switched to investment management at Prosek Partners, who have a fantastic reputation as one of the leading independent strategic communications consultants.­­

Digitalis had been spending more time in the investment management space, and I joined to help build on that, as well as to grow our business across the broader financial services industry and develop our Financial Services Practice. In the years since I joined Digitalis, we have developed a number of methodologies and new applications for our tech platform that help financial services clients with preparedness planning ahead of high-value events.

  1. What changes have you seen in the digital information space during your time at Digitalis?

There have been huge changes in the way we consume media, with mobile now on the cusp of overtaking television as the principal source. TV, radio and print have continued to decline, but interestingly the consumption of information from desktops has actually grown in recent times.

Across the most popular mobile and desktop-enabled platforms, where we focus much of our attention in our work at Digitalis, the rapid growth of misuse and abuse sadly continues. We’ve seen more widespread adoption of inauthentic campaigning techniques across both the political and business spheres, fuelled by social media, and a massive rise in disinformation activity and fake news. This is affecting everything from political campaigns to vaccine drives, and is also increasingly occurring around high value corporate events.

We’re also seeing an increase in the extent to which hostile online activists and citizen media are mining private information from the internet and social media platforms to gather intelligence about individuals and families. This is impacting high-profile individuals and family businesses, and is something we’re increasingly tackling in our activity here at Digitalis by identifying what information is online, removing or replacing it where necessary, and training clients and their families in how to protect their online footprint.

  1. You specialise in working with financial services clients. Can you tell us a little more about the types of clients that you work with, and what you enjoy about working with financial services clients in particular?

I spend most of my time with large institutional investment managers in private and public markets. Having spent many years in strategic communications for the financial services sector, it’s an area I have developed deep expertise in, so it’s rewarding to be able to utilise that and help our clients mitigate risk and maximise their position in the online space. On any working day I may be providing strategic communications consultancy, enabling clients to identify emerging risks and to make the most of opportunities presented by the unregulated online environment, or helping them to advance their arguments towards harder-to-reach audiences as part of their pre-event preparedness planning.

Digitalis’s online narrative management toolkit is invaluable in this work, enabling clients to regulate the searchable narratives and to reach new audiences, as well as providing powerful leverage in battles to win the debate around a contended issue. When a client sees positive results, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

On the risk management side, it’s rewarding to provide a robust level of assurance over what is essentially an unregulated information environment, and this has proved to be of immense value to our clients within the financial services sector. 

  1. What new and emerging challenges are you helping financial services clients with, and how do you approach these new challenges?

Financial services organisations today have to engage with a growing number of stakeholders, and face scrutiny from a larger and more diverse base of commentators than ever before. Against this backdrop, we have a number of differentiated solutions to leverage their strategic communications and marketing activity.

In particular, engaging with existing and potential shareholders is becoming more complex – not least as private investors increase their participation in public equity markets. This raises new challenges around information risk and requires careful management. My approach is methodical, taking time to develop a complete understanding of a client’s objectives and challenges, and employing the best tools from Digitalis’s inventory to maximise the potential for that client. We also need to use a certain amount of creativity and apply principles from psychology, to ensure each client’s communications and marketing activity will give them the results they’re looking to achieve, reaching and landing well with their intended audience.

Private equity investors are facing particular scrutiny, and sometimes on a very personal, private level. We can very effectively help to mitigate this through our research and intelligence offering, and for me, seeing this process deliver tangible benefits to clients is always rewarding.

  1. Finally, what are your predictions for how the digital information space will evolve in the coming months and years, and what might this mean for financial services clients and for Digitalis?

There has been a shift in the amount of personal information being reported by the nationals and sector trade media, with individuals working on large transactions being increasingly targeted. I expect this trend to continue, and it will become ever more important for financial services clients to be aware of it and take action to minimise the risks to their privacy, security and indeed to successful commercial outcomes for their business.

Parties seeking to disrupt the operations of their competitors, or to undermine a specific transaction, are increasingly using a variety of digital media as a vehicle for furthering their cause. The information they seek to amplify can take many forms, from unearthing historical material that may damage a company or individual, to propagating disinformation or one-sided opinion, and the methodologies used are also growing in number and becoming more sophisticated. I predict that as this weaponisation of digital media increases, we will see growing demand from organisations wishing to take control of the open source environment in order to safeguard brand value, and to better prepare for high-value events and transactions.

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