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Ben Kinley

Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence & Disputes - In-House or Consulting?

We explore the pros and cons of staying in consulting or moving in-house for experts in Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence and Disputes

The pros and cons of staying in consulting or moving in-house for experts in Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence and Disputes

I’m fortunate to sit at the helm of a search firm that is known as the go-to recruitment business for professionals who specialise in Investigations, Forensics, Disputes and Intelligence. I’ve spent the past several years acting as a career counsellor to hundreds of experienced professionals, from Partner & Managing Director level through to Analysts who have just a year or two of experience.

One of the conversations I’ve had most frequently revolves around the pros & cons of whether someone should remain in the Management Consulting/Accounting world vs. pivoting client-side and working in an in-house role, most often in a corporate or financial institution.

This piece is aimed at experienced professionals at all levels of seniority, who are currently working in the consulting industry (and will typically be Forensic Accountants, Business Intelligence/Due Diligence experts, Litigation Support/Disputes Intelligence professionals, Forensic Technologists & Cyber Investigators, Financial Crime Investigators, Political Risk Analysts, Lawyers in Regulatory Enforcement/White Collar Crime and Quantification of Damages experts.

If you find yourself contemplating your future career path and whether you should continue progressing within consulting or switch into an in-house setting, this is familiar territory and a topic that has been wrestled with by many before you! I hope that this article helps you to crystallise your thinking on this subject and provides some food for thought around how to best capitalise on your experience so far as well as to find long term fulfilment and career progression within this sector.           

The shape of the in-house market versus the fee earning, management consulting market

The first thing to take into consideration is that management consulting businesses are shaped very differently to the in-house teams. The in-house Corporate Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence and Financial Crime departments will take the shape of a traditional pyramid employee structure, where there is typically one overall leader (Head of Investigations, Head of Enforcement, Head of Financial Crime, Chief Security Officer, Head of Due Diligence etc) at the top, some middle-management functions below and a large pool of junior-mid level professionals.

The Management Consulting / Advisory industry, on the other hand, has an entirely different dynamic (we like to say some of the teams are quite ‘top heavy’ or have a lot of teeth!). As senior professionals in the Consulting industry such as Partners, Managing Directors, Directors etc. are fee earning, they are seen as profit generating individuals and so there is a commercial sense in having several of them. This is why there are often a significant number of senior individuals in many of the Forensics, Intelligence, Disputes and Investigations practices around the world.

This is important for several reasons as there are some clear ramifications;

  • There are more opportunities for those who wish to move from consulting into in-house roles at a more junior level (typically 2-5 years of experience) than there are for those who are already in senior consulting roles.
  • It is more challenging for Partners, Managing Directors and Directors to move from fee-earning positions into in-house teams. This is for a myriad of reasons including that there are less frequent openings at this level, that experience in business development/revenue origination is not important to in-house hiring teams, that overall compensation packages are often better in consulting firms at a certain level of seniority than they are for the corporate teams and that the in-house organisations have become quite adept at succession planning, which means if they have a senior resignation, a second in command will often step up to assume the role.

This is not to say that senior individuals are unable to transition into in-house corporate teams (many successfully do), it is just that there are greater headwinds combined with fiercer competition for a less frequent number of openings for those who have amassed a greater amount of consulting experience.

The headline pros & cons for staying in consulting or moving in-house

This is very much a generalisation of trends and won’t always neatly translate into every scenario, although is a reasonable overview of the pull and push factors for both consulting and in-house, corporate roles.

Pros for staying in consulting

  • Breadth and variety of project/case work and client base. The consulting businesses work with a wide range of clients and undertake a pretty eclectic array of cases. In general, it is believed that the quality, scope and variety of cases is often more interesting in the advisory/consulting space than in-house. Consulting firms are also frequently engaged post-incident/post-event which means they are often enlisted on some of the more complex, fast paced and high profile cases.
  • The career path is structured and clear. Consulting firms are quite hierarchal in their design and it is relatively easy to understand the various steps towards becoming a Partner/MD as well as the general expectations for each promotion. It is also easier to ascertain the average amount of time required to achieve each promotion.
  • Greater travel (note: this is only a pro for those who enjoy it!). In general, consulting organisations tend to require a greater amount of travel than the in-house corporate teams. This is not always the case (for example, due diligence researchers in consulting firms will rarely travel, if at all) but there is certainly a greater trend for consultancy based professionals to ‘be on the road’ more frequently than their in-house counterparts. The requirement to be client-facing and visible in the market also means that the more senior consulting professionals tend to be afforded more time to attend conferences, events and networking opportunities, which is advantageous for building lasting relationships and developing a ‘personal brand’ in the industry.
  • Remuneration: Those who excel at client development / business origination can be remunerated very handsomely within the consulting industry. Typically compensation is very high at Partner, Managing Director and Director level within the consulting platforms. Note: base salary remuneration is often lower in consulting firms at Analyst/Associate level through to Senior Manager level. Those who are confident in their abilities to win work and translate relationships into profits can earn significant packages within consulting.

Pros for moving in-house

  • An opportunity to try something new and see the results of your toils. Many experienced professionals crave an opportunity to see a non-billable-hours type environment and see what life is like client-side. In the consulting world, reports are drafted and findings are presented to clients, but the consultants rarely see the implementation of their analysis and work. Working client side allows someone to be more embedded and have a full 360 view on an investigation or intelligence project. This can be very satisfying, to see the efforts of your labour used by your employer.
  • Compensation: particularly at the junior to mid-level of seniority is usually higher within in-house teams than in consulting. This is particularly true for benefits packages such as pension schemes, vacation days and additional schemes which are generally stronger within blue-chip organisations.
  • Working hours / conditions: In general, those who work within in-house teams enjoy a greater work life balance and work fewer hours than their fee-earning counterparts in consulting. This can be something that is of particular consideration for those who have a family/children and who find it more challenging to work evenings or to travel extensively. Many consulting firms are taking great strides towards flexibility and better work/life balance, however there is no denying that hours are generally fewer client-side.
  • No sales or revenue targets. Removing the pressure to bring in revenue and to stop having to consider billable hours can be a huge relief to those who have found it challenging to hit those metrics or do not enjoy this aspect of the consulting role (those who prefer to ‘do the work’ rather than ‘sell the work’)
  • Some of these teams are quite greenfield. By that I mean that they are quite new and are in a build-it-up type mode, something that can be very exciting to be a part of.

Cons for staying in consulting

  • Expectation to sell. The more senior you get in the consulting world, the more of an expectation there is to hit billing targets and bring in clients/cases. For extroverts who enjoy this aspect of consulting, this is a major draw to stay in the sector, but for those who are not confident in their ability to sell or who don’t enjoy the commercial aspect of the consulting role, this can be seen as a negative aspect of staying in consulting.
  • Not seeing the value add. Consultants can sometimes feel like they are churning out reports but never see their work put to use, which can cause frustration.

Cons for moving in-house

  • More repetitive or monotonous case work. This is not always true, however many in-house corporate teams will undertake quite standardised work (especially due diligence research/financial crime teams, some eDiscovery teams etc).
  • Flatter organisational structure. As corporate teams are often viewed as a ‘cost centre’ it can be challenging to climb the corporate ladder in an in-house group.
  • More susceptibility to restructurings and redundancies. Many global corporations regularly experience business cycles that mean they hire and fire on mass. Several banking groups in particular have rapidly scaled up their teams, only to make large redundancies later. Several corporations are also embracing offshoring and are moving investigations, intelligence and forensics functions to lower cost jurisdictions. There is more volatility in the in-house teams than the consulting teams. A Head of Investigations/Forensics at a Fortune 1000/FTSE 500 business has a far greater risk of being laid off than a fee earning Partner at a consulting group.
  • Challenges in moving back to consulting. Those who have transitioned into in-house roles often struggle to pivot back into consultancy later on in their careers. This is because their base salaries often exceed those of their consulting counterparts, they have lost/haven’t built a track record in business development (so are seen as a more risky hire) and because the consulting firms would generally prefer to hire someone from one of their competitors (a trusted name in the sector) rather than from an in-house team. There are some exceptions to this (for example, experience in-house at a major regulatory like the FCA or SEC can be seen as hugely advantageous) but it is a general trend that once you leave consulting, it is tricky to return later on.

Compensation Considerations

As I’ve alluded to a little within this piece, compensation in the Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence and Disputes sector is hugely varied and there are disparities across geographies and professional specialisms.

In general, at a more junior to mid-level (1-8 years of experience), overall compensation (and particularly base salary) is higher within the in-house corporate teams. Those who invest their careers into continuing in the consulting industry can see huge financial reward at Director, Managing Director and Partner level within consultancy, where packages will typically dwarf those of in-house teams.

In consulting:

  • Those who have expert witness / testifying experience generally receive significant compensation packages.
  • Those with the greatest track record in selling high-value cases / engagements are best remunerated.
  • Those who are qualified attorneys/lawyers or qualified forensic accountants tend to secure the best financial packages. Those who have held significant/senior roles within regulatory bodies or who have bene ex prosecutors also command a premium.
  • Certain firms, often US headquartered and private equity backed consulting business, have a reputation for paying the most generous compensation packages. These include the likes of AlixPartners, Berkeley Research Group, FTI Consulting, Ankura and Duff & Phelps (who have acquired Kroll).

Background & Mobility

Its nearly always easier for someone who works in a management consulting firm to move to another consulting/advisory practice than to transition into an in-house role. Some of the factors that often come into play;

  • Those who work at the Big 4 accounting firms (EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte) typically have an easier time transitioning into the corporate/in-house world. Prior experience within a Big 4 firm is something that is often requested by the larger corporates and so a background in one of these business can be hugely advantageous.
  • Academic qualifications and accreditations are valuable. Qualified accountants (CPA/ACCA/ACA etc) and qualified attorneys/lawyers typically have a greater abundance of in-house opportunities available to them. Additional qualifications such as CAMS and the CFE are also often requested by in-house teams.
  • Language capabilities and regional specialisms can be hugely advantageous and many in-house roles will describe a preference for those who have a relevant background or skills. For example, an Oil & Gas major that has significant investments in Africa will likely prefer to hire a fluent French speaking consultant who has specialised in Africa based intelligence/investigations over a more generalist hire.
  • Very senior individuals (Partner/MD) can also manage to move in-house. Typically these will be Partners who go on to assume General Counsel, Head of Financial Crime or Head of Investigations roles within major corporations.

Depending on your background, there are also certain teams that will be easier for you to move into in-house than others. Generally speaking, those in consulting who specialise in these areas will have the greatest chance to move into the following groups:

Business Intelligence / Due Diligence Research: easiest to move into Enhanced Due Diligence, Financial Crime and BI teams within Banking & Financial Institutions and Extractives firms. Many other industries have started to develop teams including Technology firms. Even LEGO has its own in-house team in intelligence now! 

Corporate Investigations: easiest to move into in-house investigator roles within FTSE 500/Fortune 1000 firms. This is typically the easiest move for those who have had a prior background in law enforcement/policing etc. Industries that have often hired from this pool of talent include consumer goods businesses (firms like Burberry), Utilities and Extractives.

Forensic Accountants: easiest to move into the internal investigations/regulatory investigations teams within Banks & Financial institutions, Extractives firms and Regulatory bodies. Some Law Firms have also developed internal forensic accounting teams.

Political Risk Analysts: easiest to move into threat intelligence and corporate security teams within Extractives, Financial Services & Insurance and Technology firms. The in-house market for this skill set remains quite under-developed.

Cyber & Financial Crime: a very broad variety of potential in-house moves are available to professionals from either of these disciplines. Both skill sets are in consistently high demand across multiple industries.

Forensic Technology: easiest to move into large financial institutions and law firms that have already developed internal capabilities in this space.

Fraud Data Analytics: one of the least developed in-house markets. Easiest to move into a tech vendor or financial institution but far fewer opportunities than in consulting are available to these professionals at this stage.

Summary

Whether to remain within management consultancy or to seek to move into the corporate/in-house world is a deeply personal decision. The factors that are important to you will be unique and you should invest time to consider both your short term and long term goals and aspirations.

Do you want to discuss this further?

Do you have experience in the Investigations, Forensics, Intelligence & Disputes consulting world and have questions about your career progression, opportunities in the market and your ambitions for the future? Please reach out to me in confidence at bkinley@lawsonchase.com if you’d like to speak further. We guarantee complete discretion and confidentiality is a core pillar of our search firm’s values.

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