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Executive Protection in 2023: Setting the Bar Higher

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In this interview, EP Wired speaks with Christian West, a well-known entrepreneur and executive protection architect with decades of international experience. Christian is the founder of EP Access, a sought-after speaker, EP trainer, and security advisor in Europe and the United States. With his wealth of experience in the industry, Christian shares his thoughts on the future of EP, including his forecasts for industry expansion and technological integration, the challenges of meeting demand for non-traditional security services, as well as the impact of innovative technologies on executive protection in 2023.

How do you see the executive protection industry in 2023? What are your forecasts for the immediate future regarding the industry’s overall expansion, types of services on the rise and how to ensure that they are provided at the highest level?

I think that executive protection in 2023 will continue to grow as an industry and keep us busy. I expect that we will still experience the economic effects such as recession globally, but as one of the few guys that has been in the industry long enough to see the full circle of life, executive protection will not slow down. The teams that were in-sourced over the years will get out-sourced to security companies and external providers. But the industry will grow.

Also, I’ve been talking about this for a while, we will see a lot of technology get more integrated into executive protection. Digitalization has not been embraced fully; we are still not there. But tech will inevitably take a greater part in what we do every day.

There is a growing demand for services such as online reputation management, brand protection and crisis management. How is the industry working to address these demands for services that go beyond traditional physical security?

Reputation management, online crisis management and brand protection, those disciplines were thrown at us years ago. It was not something for which we had the right tools back in the day. Not like we do now.

There are a lot of good companies out there doing excellent work in these fields and that’s something that every EP team needs to provide, as part of protection circles. Companies that do not have partners helping with these issues need to find someone as soon as possible. However, there is a lot more to how technology is connected to executive protection than just that.

If you think about it, we still have not perfected the provision of “old” services, like TSCM, a more sophisticated use of home-technology cameras, alarms, trackers etc. Principals are looking at the value of their dollar, so its important that we figure out the way to use technology as a force multiplier.

Executive Protection in 2023
Executive Protection in 2023: Setting the Bar Higher – Interview with Christian West

How is the increasing usage of innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biometrics, impacting the evolution of executive protection? What new skills are needed? How will training keep pace with these technologies?

ChatGPT and similar examples of AI are fun, right? But, they will be used a BS factor. All of a sudden, everyone can write and code. Some security providers will be able to sound like something they are not. In my opinion, it seems much easier to “fake it until you make it”.

AIs like ChatGPT get all their information from the internet, basically people who have been sharing know-how and hard-won knowledge for years online are feeding them. And machines can now write about stuff they know nothing about, and everyone is suddenly an expert.

What if the guy is not able follow-through and execute on that? People will over-promise and under-deliver. But this is true not only for executive protection, but for a wide range of service industries. There will be a lot of sophisticated language, but there will be a gap between words and delivery.

So, how do you see through the BS?

In executive protection, we always had a problem that the people we are selling our services are perhaps not very sophisticated buyers, with all due respect. This is because it’s very hard to determine what an actual security expert looks or sounds like. People still buy services due to some past connections or loyalties, and those are no guarantees when it comes to protecting some new guy.

I am not sure yet exactly what type of training could fix this situation. But I know that if I was buying ep services, I would make sure to get a really good personal impression from the sellers. Everyone will look and sound smart going by their websites, but personal impressions are not that easy to feint.

The executive protection industry in 2023 continues to expand globally. How can we ensure that personnel are trained and equipped to address the unique challenges of different regions and cultures? How are industry leaders working to standardize training across borders?

In Europe we’ve had stadardards for a long time. The UK has the SIA standard that in theory everyone working in the UK has to follow, however there are still a lot of people operating there without a license. In Scandinavia and Germany we had different standards. All of these are intended to standardize the local markets.

But the only standard that moved the bar is the ISO standard – and that is because it’s voluntary quality-control standard. This means that ISO-certified individuals need to certify their own quality control systems, and this works for all security companies. And I can personally attest to that, because when we started the ISO standard and implemented it correctly, our quality control systems got a lot better.

The problem with the industry setting a standard is that once it’s in place, then anyone living up to that standard can call themselves a certified agent. This means that people who are on the “lower end” of the industry will get a minimal viable standard they need to meet, while at the same time these exact criteria will also be used to measure exceptional service providers.

Most of the good security companies will already be way above the standards. This is because companies like that leverage the quality and standard of their service to give them a competitive advantage. Their logic is simple: the better our services are, the better our chances of getting the contract.

So, standardization is not going to affect top-notch security companies.

Another issue relating to standards is that nowadays a lot of Fortune 500 companies – who are big consumers of EP services, can’t force anyone to live up to their standards. Companies today can’t even make their employees do a fitness test.

Don’t get me wrong, standardization is a good thing – but we just have a lot further to go, because most of the people that we get certified will be small security companies and solo operators. And that is not going to make much of a difference – apart from a fee to get agents certified. In all likelihood, most of these small companies already do live up to those standards.

Finally, let’s look beyond 2023. What are your outlooks on the future of our industry? Can you provide insights on the services, standards, challenges and the overall growth of the industry over the next few years?

As a profession, we are going to continue to develop, but it does depend on how long we will see troubles around the world and how much of a recession we will experience – that will determine the growth. I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years, and I’ve noticed these cycles of 7 to 10 years that kind of repeat themselves.

In the beginning we were finding ourselves, there were not a lot of teams. Then there was a period where we saw the rise of tech companies and people started to see the need for executive protection. After that we saw a period of stabilization when the trend became in-sourcing – companies had their own people and teams.

In the next years, I believe we will see security companies rising even higher and teams will start to be outsourced again. Team leaders and subject matter experts will remain in-house, but most of the services will come from external providers – and this should be the trend for the next 5-7 years. Hopefully by then the world will get over most of the current troubles and we will another in-sourcing phase.

We can expect that the ways we currently provide services will be challenged and this will lead to a change in how technology impacts what we do. If we take a look at what our clients fear the most, its stuff like data breaches, loss of information. When we look at the US, it will be interesting to see how things will change when we get into the election cycle again. If we have another couple of years or protests and political turmoil – in that case, we will see a rise in residential security.

We will definitely feel the results of defunding the police and reduced security spendings. You can’t just take something out and not do anything to replace it with something else. So, security companies will step up and fill the gap.

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