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7 Questions for Your Security Advisor

Thinking about hiring a security firm to protect you, your family or your business? Here’s what you need to know in order to make the best choice.

BY Jessica Thomas | Life | Dec 9, 2016
© Michael Jung/iStock

Thanks to high-profile events like the robbery of Kim Kardashian and any number of corporate hacks, the issue of personal and professional security has probably never gotten more attention. High net worth individuals particularly need to think about the risks that come with growing wealth. “They have a natural target on their backs,” says Matthew Helfrich, president of Waldron Private Wealth, a boutique private wealth management firm based in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Everybody knows who they are and what they have.”

Whether you’re a family with teenagers that needs to create a dedicated cyber security plan or a startup founder on the cusp of an IPO, it’s important to ask the right questions when selecting a security firm. Here are some critical issues to consider.

HOW DOES THE FIRM THINK PROACTIVELY ABOUT SECURITY?

According to Jordan Arnold, senior managing director at investigative consulting firm K2 Intelligence and head of its private client group, people often wait until they’ve experienced an alarming event to think about security for their families. So when choosing a security firm, ask about the plans it creates for new clients. “What you really want is a partner for your family that can think proactively about how to prevent problems and be there reactively to respond and assist if problems do occur,” Arnold says. “It’s simply not enough to have someone on call—it’s important to have gone through the process of assessing your security posture, strengthening it and having the right pieces in place to activate it when a problem occurs.” Potential clients should ask for a detailed plan, and then compare it to other proposals from other firms. How thorough is it? Does it feel off-the-rack, or does it reflect a genuine understanding of the specific circumstances of your work or family? What process did the firm go through to create the plan?

CAN YOU VISIT THE FIRM’S OFFICES?

In an extensive document entitled Security Firm Standards, private security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates (whom Worth attempted to interview for this article, but instead they sent this document) lies out how to conduct due diligence when selecting protection services. One of the most important aspects of the process? Actually visiting the firm’s offices. “There are so-called companies that have good-looking brochures or websites but don’t have any viable headquarters facility,” reads the document. “If a firm is unwilling or unable to have you visit their offices, your assessment of that firm might end right there.” One caveat: Don’t assume that you’ll get visibility into the entire operation. Security firms have to be extraordinarily protective of client privacy and, sometimes, their own proprietary techniques. But any decent site visit should give you a good sense of the breadth and depth of a firm’s capabilities.

ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS

Gavin de Becker & Associates emphasizes the importance of putting a firm on the spot when vetting it. “Rather than relying upon anyone’s verbal answers, or upon brochures and references, have the firm demonstrate the truthfulness of each claim—right then and there,” Security Firm Standards reads. “For example, when a prospective service-provider claims to have undertaken a background check on an employee, ask to see the report of the background check. An answer such as ‘We’ll get it to you later’ might mean it doesn’t exist.”

WHAT RELATIONSHIPS DOES THE FIRM HAVE WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT?

Although private security firms provide a customized level of protection beyond the capabilities of law enforcement, there are some areas that need to be left to the authorities—so it’s helpful to have ex-law enforcement members on your team. They know the ins and outs of local police forces and probably have connections within them; a really strong firm might have the same relationships with the FBI.

“Because you’re dealing with security threats, some can’t be handled privately and require law enforcement involvement,” K2’s Arnold says. “I think having folks who have relationships in place so that they can help facilitate the involvement of law enforcement is critically important.”

WHAT PROFESSIONALS MAKE UP A FIRM’S TEAM?

Although those ex-law enforcement professionals are important, they’re only part of an effective security team. “You really want a multidisciplinary team that brings a collection of experiences—including law enforcement—to the process of keeping you safe,” Arnold says. At K2, teams consist of former investigative journalists, former members of the intelligence community, forensic accountants and cyber specialists, in addition to ex-law enforcement members.

HOW DOES THE FIRM APPROACH CYBER SECURITY?

“Obviously, we advise all of our clients to have the most up-to-date personal residence security as possible,” says Helfrich. “But we tend to focus on what’s more likely to happen. Are you more likely to get kidnapped, or are you more likely to have your personal information breached via cyber technology? The answer is clearly going to be the second.” From protecting information stored in the cloud to educating your children about how to use social media safely, cyber security should be paramount at the firm you choose.

WHO IS YOUR POINT PERSON?

Vetting a security firm should take time, because it’s an important decision. When you do eventually select a firm, Jordan says, “You want to make sure you have a dedicated relationship manager so that you’re not dealing with a different person every time you call.”

Asking the right questions up front is crucial to creating what will hopefully be a long, uneventful partnership—no matter where you are. “You want an organization that can help you as you move from location to location, company to company, destination to destination—that they can really be your trusted partner in security,” Arnold says.

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