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We explore a career in Political Risk, how to break into the industry and our insights
As a headhunter that supports many of the political risk teams around the world, I'm often asked about the sector, the entry-requirements & the career path within this niche but fascinating industry. If you are thinking about embarking upon a career in the Political Risk sector, I hope you find this article useful.
Introduction to the Political Risk sector
Political risk specialists (often called Country Risk analysts) analyse and explore the political, social and economic factors at play across particular geographies, regions and industry sectors on behalf of companies and/or governments. They analyse both threats and opportunities for businesses and companies, undertake strategic investment analysis for corporates with investments in multiple jurisdictions and gauge shifting attitudes and factors of risk that may affect the commercial operations of companies in certain regions.
Political risk analysts are often subject matter experts in a particular geography and it’s common to find country-specific specialists who have an in-depth knowledge of the political landscape in just one area. There are numerous Political Risk consultancies that support companies with ongoing or ad-hoc in-depth information about the political environment, think tanks such as Chatham House which specialise in International Affairs and a range of corporates in industries like Banking, Extractives, Technology and Insurance who have developed their own in-house political risk and intelligence teams.
Political risk specialists can support companies in a number of ways including political risk monitoring (regular reporting on certain metrics and conditions) and ad-hoc political risk consultancy which is often far more strategic and project based. When a company is considering making significant investment (such as opening up a new mining site in Africa), they’ll use a political risk specialist to assess the market-entry viability of their project. In this particular example, the political risk expert could recommend or urge against investment, suggest alternative locations and will give an accurate analysis of political, social and economic influences that the company should consider. Political risk specialists help to ease uncertainty about investment decisions and facilitate resilient business operations.
Factors and metrics that may be monitored by country risk specialists include political instability, terrorism, corruption, security threats, commodity risk, human rights, investment risk, economic indicators, regulatory developments, social trends, supply chain risks, labour laws, currency convertibility etc. It is not uncommon for political risk specialists to leverage a network of contacts for on-the-ground appraisals of the political landscape.
The political risk industry tends to attract highly intellectual, well educated and passionate professionals.
Skills and Qualifications Required for Entry in the Political Risk Sector
It goes without saying that a keen interest in politics, current affairs and international relations is a must have. The majority of political risk specialists will have regional expertise which often stems from a passion about a particular country. A flair for writing and research are also necessary as political risk analysts spend a significant proportion of time drafting written reports on behalf of the firms they work for. Political risk specialists must have fantastic communication skills and given the necessity of conducting research from multiple sources, fluency in multiple languages is often a pre-requisite to certain roles and is always highly desirable. The majority of those who work in the sector are degree qualified with a significant number of country risk professionals holding Masters and sometimes PhD qualifications.
The most common qualifications are in International Relations, regional specialist qualifications such as African Studies, Humanities, Journalism, Arts and Social Sciences, however it’s not uncommon for other entry paths. Sometimes, those from the law enforcement industry and intelligence roles within government make the transition to the country risk sector and other qualifications in areas like Security can provide an entry route.
Those who hold particular language skills will often have the opportunity to use them; for example Spanish & Portuguese speakers may be encouraged to specialise in the Latin America region to make use of their ability to research and communicate in the local dialect. The value of being able to conduct research in a range of different languages in the political risk space is very valuable and those with a strong language portfolio often command a premium price in the market.
Experience and skills gained in the areas of statistics, data analytics, economics and data assimilation are all highly prized by the political risk sector. If you have applied quantitative and qualitative techniques within your work experience, through internships or through your qualifications, these should be highlighted. The ability to write in an unbiased fashion, to be precise and be able to answer a direct question or satisfy a business need are fundamental skills.
How to Get a Job in Political Risk
If you satisfy the typical entry requirements in terms of qualifications & can demonstrate a keen interest in the political risk world, the next question is how to get your first job in the industry. The majority of country risk specialists started their careers within one of the specialist risk and intelligence consultancy firms or a think tank. Often these firms will provide internships and/or graduate programmes, but the competition is fierce.
You should regularly check the websites of some of the main political risk management consultancy firms, research firms and think tanks for entry level openings or internship opportunities - some of the most popular organisations are listed here. Many internships often lead to permanent offers of employment and this can be a fantastic foot-in-the-door for budding political risk analysts.
My search firm infrequently works on entry level positions, though do please register your CV on our website here and if we have any openings through at Lawson Chase, we’ll be happy to consider you. One of the best tools to search for openings are the job aggregator websites, which scan open positions across the whole web (such as Indeed and Jooble).
Many political risk consultancies accept speculative applications of interest - you should thoroughly explore their websites for information on how to apply to live positions or submit your information for review by their teams.
Networking also remains a fundamental part of an entry-level job search. It’s highly recommended that you reach out to anyone you know within the industry who might be able to broker an introduction to a hiring manager or HR team. If you’ve studied an industry relevant course such as International Relations, your university may also provide guidance, contacts and networking opportunities that you should utilise fully.
Searching for an opportunity within Political Risk is far from easy – many hiring teams receive in excess of 100 applications each time they advertise a junior role. When applying to a live position, do ensure that you research the companies you are applying for thoroughly and if a cover letter is requested, invest time in this.
You’ll have to be savvy about how you go about looking for open roles too, as it’s not as simple as searching ‘political risk jobs’ on Google. Political Risk jobs, confusingly, often fall under a whole spectrum of different job titles including Research Analyst, Threat Intelligence Specialist, Corporate Security Analyst, Intelligence Analyst, Sovereign Risk Analyst, Credit Analyst, Political Advisor… I have even seen them called ‘Domain Expert’ and just ‘Analyst’ before.
Career Paths Within Political Risk
The majority of Country Risk / Political Risk professionals start their careers in an entry level Researcher, Associate or Junior Consultant position with one of the specialist risk consultancies that include the likes of Verisk Maplecroft or Control Risks. Many of these firms actively canvass talent straight from university graduate pools. The first couple of years in the industry are likely to be spent in a research and analysis role, producing regular and/or ad hoc reports for companies and organisations globally. Hours can be long, the volume of research and writing required can be high and the remuneration is often low, with a typical range of £25,000-32,000 for the first 1-2 years of employment.
The first couple of years may be spent in a generalist role, though more likely than this your employer will offer you some regional or sector specialism. It’s commonplace for any language skills to be utilised, so if you have Spanish language skills it’s likely you’d be drafted into Spanish speaking country / Latin America focused briefs.
If you continue to develop a career within a risk consultancy company, the next promotion would likely be to Consultant or even Senior Consultant. At this level, you’ll often have more exposure to ad-hoc client political risk projects (rather than solely producing regular update reports), will likely have much more face-time with clients (which can include significant opportunity for travel in some firms) and the opportunity to lead on certain cases or engagements. Promotion opportunities from there will often include running a team/department/practice and getting more involved in helping the company to ‘win work’, that is, business development and networking. The most technically astute and personable individuals often manage to become thought leaders in their chosen regions / specialisms and their companies may put them in front of media sources, including live TV interviews. Career paths in the consultancy world can develop into subject matter expert roles, operations (including Chief Operating Officer positions), relationship management and business development roles etc. Senior Analysts within consultancy tend to earn a basic salary of around £38,000-60,000 with political risk team leaders typically earning between £52,000-70,000.
There is also a growing build out of specialist consultancies that specialise in crisis management, brand reputation and communications who have more recently taken towards a trend of employing political risk professionals.
There is also plenty of demand from “within industry” and many of the in-house teams at corporates including Banks, Investment Management firms & Development Funds, Credit Rating agencies, Insurance companies, Technology firms and Oil, Gas & Energy companies have developed their own capabilities in country risk. These teams are primarily used to weigh up risk, provide regular reporting, understand threats and opportunities and guide firms in terms of their investment decisions. Over the next few years, we’d expect in house political risk jobs to be commonplace as more and more firms see the value in having fully embedded analysts. Within industries such as the Oil & Gas market, political risk specialists are used for the full 360 degree lifecycle of investment, from scoping out potential future opportunities, assessing the market-entry viability for proposed investments and managing the post-investment operations once a company is operating within a region. This full view of where analysis adds value at every stage of the process can make an in-house political risk job particularly attractive.
The Corporate Security teams of in-house companies have also ballooned in recent years and will often look at the Political Risk Analyst pool when hiring. These positions can sometimes be quite siloed (for example, only focusing on Travel Risk) but there can be some fascinating roles in the threat and security domain.
In the future, it's expected that the industry will hire more and more subject matter experts in areas like Data Science, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) specialists and programmers as the sector seeks ways to automate many of the manual research intensive tasks that analysts complete today. The industry is ever evolving with technology playing a greater hand in how firms quickly and effectively assimilate large sets of data from an array of sources and use that constructively to find meaningful insight.
Political Risk Consultancy Firms & Specialist Communications Consultancies
Control Risks is a pioneer in the political risk world and has offices around the globe. Headquartered in London, they regularly hire graduates and provide fantastic training. Their business model also heavily revolves around having on-the-ground specialists in locations across the world. Control Risks particularly favour candidates who have lived and/or worked in their region of specialism, those who are articulate and well qualified and candidates who have multiple language skills. Their business is split into three lines; Political Risk, Integrity Risk and Security Risk. If you are interested in a country risk role with Control Risks, you’d want to aim for a position in their Political Risk team. The products and services offered by Control Risks include ad-hoc political risk & market entry consultancy, an online political risk monitoring platform called PRIME and their yearly RiskMap offering.
Risk Advisory Group is one of the top brands within political risk. With offices in London, Washington DC, Moscow, Hong Kong, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, they have one of the most extensive networks of political rid professionals.
Eurasia Group is a NY headquartered firm but has a sizeable London office. A well known house in the political risk consulting world with offices in the US (NY and Washington DC), Tokyo and Sao Paolo. Eurasia group have an impressive array of senior advisors including several former prime minsters.
Hacluyt are the UK firm most shrouded in mystery. They operate discretely and execute high-fee assignments in political risk and strategic advisory. They do not advertise live openings and have an elusive approach to recruitment. Widely regarded as the crème de la crème of the boutique consulting firms, they are supported by an outstanding advisory board counting leading figures in business and the public sector amongst their international advisory panel.
Falanx Assynt is a political risk and intelligence consulting brand within the global, listed company Falanx Group. They offer a range of subscription based products within the political, security and intelligence markets as well as a fascinating Embedded Analyst programme, which allows some of their analysts to work on-site in the Corporate Security, Risk and Intelligence divisions of major multinational companies on a secondment basis.
The EIU is the research and advisory arm of The Economist, providing a range of subscription based and advisory services in business intelligence, political risk analysis and consulting. Their international country and risk analysis team is well reputed.
An international risk and consulting business. Verisk Maplecroft has offices in the UK, US and Asia and offers a number of risk indices subscription products and a number of advisory solutions to support corporates and governments.
A UK headquartered firm that is relatively boutique but has acquired a couple of other businesses over the years including West Sands Advisory and some parts of Aegis Advisory’s prior business. They tend to hire more junior professionals and train them up, so they can be an ideal starting ground for graduates.
Boutique London focused intelligence firm that offers a range of consulting services, including political analysis and market entry.
Small consulting firm with offices around the world (Asia, UK, US) and a focus on Security consulting, Crisis Management and Investigations.
A global consulting firm better famed for its work in due diligence research (compliance, financial crime) but they do also do some political risk work too. This is a spinoff firm from the old Stroz Friedberg Strategic Intelligence team.
International giant in the information services space who have a large political risk reporting and advisory group.
Specialist and well reputed political risk consulting firm, headquartered in Oxford (UK) but with some smaller international offices.
Boutique consulting firm based in London offering a range of services, including political risk advisory.
Teneo Intelligence is a largely US and UK focused consulting business that has a Political Risk Advisory team. They tend to hire quite experienced analysts more frequently than juniors.
Small political risk and security consulting business with two offices in the UK (London and Hereford) and a Singapore branch. Well known for hiring more junior / entry level professionals and providing a training platform.
Global data provider with a specialist intelligence product/service “Fitch Solutions” that provides risk indices (including political risk ones), data and forecasts.
A boutique but rapidly growing information and consulting business that focuses on emerging markets and core industries such as Healthcare and Heavy Equipment. Ducker Frontier is the amalgamation of two consulting firms, Frontier Strategy Group and Ducker Worldwide. They have offices in North America, the UK and Singapore. They hire at all levels of seniority including junior/entry level.
A UK based, very boutique political risk monitoring/consulting firm that tends to hire junior/entry level professionals.
A small, Kent (UK) based political and security advisory firm that predominantly hires graduates.
A boutique but international (London, Singapore, Dubai) consulting firm that has a specialist political risk advisory team. Hires at a range of seniorities including junior.
A boutique consulting business in political risk advisory and business intelligence, headed by Kate Mallinson, a Central Asia expert and a previous Partner of GPW. Tends to hire those with fluency in Russian.
Boutique political risk and intelligence consulting business led by Steve Fox in NYC, with offices in London and Singapore. This firm specialises in ‘emerging markets’ advisory cases.
A NYC and London based consulting firm with a stellar reputation for providing strategic intelligence advisory projects to their client base. They combine an in-house team with an advisory board. Tends to hire experienced analysts.
A London based advisory firm that provides intelligence, advisory and security services, mainly to multinational companies and governments.
A London based consulting/advisory business that exclusively focuses on Africa and offers a range of intelligence, advisory and risk based consulting services.
Another purely Africa focused consulting business with offices in London, but also plenty of in-region offices throughout Africa.
A boutique, London headquartered advisory business that offers political risk, intelligence and investigations services. Tends to hire specialists who focus on particular regions.
Protection Group International (PGI)
UK based consulting firm that has a risk and intelligence services offering, that supports multinational organisations with political risk and security monitoring and analysis.
Smith Brandon International
Washington DC headquartered consulting business offering a range of intelligence, investigations and compliance related services. Has a political risk and business intelligence offer.
Large, Texas based political research and advisory consulting business that takes a ‘longer term’ outlook to geopolitical trends and events.
Andreae & Associates
Boutique risk and intelligence consulting firm with its physical presence concentrated throughout Germany. Political risk advisory is one of a number of services offered.
Fully London based advisory business providing political analysis and economic/macro research services to their clients.
Boutique consulting business that specialises in strategic and political risk advisory projects.
International management consulting firm that has a dedicated Geopolitical Intelligence advisory service line (based in Washington DC).
Boutique but global consulting firm offering country risk and security consulting services.
Small consulting group with a specialism in risk and security projects.
HOZINT / Horizon Intelligence
Technology/platform based solution that provides threat intelligence in real time, covering data such as political risk, security and safety metrics.
I hope that this guide proves a useful resource to you as you start to consider your career within the political risk / country risk markets. Unfortunately we are unable to give individual / tailored advice to graduates beyond the scope of this piece due to the volume of enquiries it generates, but do hope to share further materials and guides that may aid your job search in the future.