Vivek Khanna is the Managing Director for First Advantage, India Region, responsible for India Commercial, India Operations, and Global Operating Center. Before joining First Advantage in 2014, he was the Senior Vice President and Head of Emerging Geographies at MphasiS, an HP Company.
Q1. When you look at the last five years, what would you say are the top trends in background verification?
In the last five years, there have been three kinds of change – 1) related to the environment, 2) the client base and 3) the applicants. Still, in India, we don’t have laws that mandate background screening.
From the ecosystem perspective, a number of manual steps are now automated. There is a shift in the quality of information, authenticity, and speed, because of operating online.
There has been a rise in the number of domestic companies who are verifying or screening candidates. They have found reputational risk and the propensity of finding candidates who may not have a clean history. All of which can be reliably found.
Another reason for the rise of background screening is to do with employee mobility. Earlier most candidates that a company hires were from the same locale or region, nowadays that’s not the case. Earlier there used to be fewer companies, and you could call up the HR of these companies. Now, there are a good number of companies.
Five years ago, companies still had about 4-6 years of employee retention rate. Now, this trend has reversed.
The frequency of people moving even at the junior level has picked up significantly. And they move across states and regions. Candidates are also taking on various degrees including a number of online based learning programs.
For a company like ours, these aspects have changed the business. And there’s a need to partner with institutions. From a logistics point of view, few questions we are thinking about is how can machine learning help with better results? How can we design our applications to be smart and intuitive, so the applicant and client experience is excellent? And are we able to deliver at a very high speed with the same degree of quality and accuracy?
Q2. Would you say that employee mobility is the biggest challenge when it comes to background checks?
It is a trend that’s on the rise. I don’t think it’s going to stop and it’s going to entirely depend on the supply and demand for talent. For a criminal check, it’s an interesting challenge because the address of the individual is essential. Considering we don’t have one solid database in our country, we still need to go to specific police districts to get the verification of the commissioner or through the local courts.
Q3. At which job levels do you find the highest discrepancies? Are there any sectoral trends?
Most of the discrepancies are at the junior or entry level. Our data may be biased because it’s very focused. Most of the companies that engage in background screening are from the IT and ITES sector. And some of them are even mandated by their clients in the US or UK. In the BFSI sector, again there’s a mix of both India based companies and offshore development centers of Western companies.
There’s an increased focus on background checks in the healthcare, especially hospitals. This is because of the high vulnerability associated with patient care, and there is also steady attrition in the sector. Another industry where the demand for background screening is on the rise is education. Closely followed by the pharmaceuticals industry. There’s a huge reputational risk when things go wrong.
In the next couple of years, there will be a need for robust background screening processes in the manufacturing sector.
Q4. There’s a lot of technology that’s being introduced in the background screening process. Could you talk about how machine learning and other emerging technology are transforming the processes?
Let’s say I am hiring from a suspicious company ‘XYZ’. And it’s known for giving employment certificates for money, once we’ve identified that, there will be an input on the company or the applicant stating that the employment agency is suspicious. Our research from the last five years shows that these agencies usually operate out of one building. And so we are able to geotag codes based on the work we have done. Using technology, we are notified regarding the employment agency or company, and it leads us to a better investigation.
At times, there are discrepancies related to a job or role which could raise suspicion. For example: If there is an unusual rise of scrum profiles in the last one month, the system can show combinations of these descriptions in a matter of seconds. So an in-depth screening can follow.
In 2014, we used to take about 15-18 days to complete a case. Today, on an average we do 8-9 days. And we believe in the next two years; it will take only 6-7 days.
Q5. How is the Blockchain technology going to transform the background screening process?
Blockchain technology is a phenomenal technology. And it is being applied effectively in industries like management consulting and banking. However, when dealing with SPII (Sensitive personally identifiable information), there is a need for greater clarity – especially with respect to storage and transmission of this data.
From a legal perspective, there are key questions on how much personal data can be made available. Secondly, when a candidate is put through the screening process, they need to authorize it. They need to agree to reveal information to a background screening company through the employer. And this authorization will have to be restricted for the stated purpose of verification. Otherwise, there is a scope of misusing it.
Also, there is a need for regulation on who owns the information/ report - Is it the candidate? Or the company? Having clarity on the privacy laws and how we can use the technology makes a huge difference.
Q6. How far away is the adoption of blockchain technology?
Considering the number of open items that are still there, I believe we still need to progress further. There are a lot of unanswered questions which are still being looked at and controls being built on. But given the government’s recent initiatives like the Digi locker, things can move quickly. As Blockchain continues to evolve across the globe at a rapid pace and we are engaged with our clients, industry and the regulatory authorities to develop and deploy options to facilitate blockchain technology continuously.