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eComms Surveillance 101

Cassandra Morrison

A successful compliance strategy starts with knowing the rules and following them—whether those are defined by internal guidelines or regulatory requirements. While it’s not the only strategy in a compliance team’s toolbox, an important piece of the puzzle starts with surveillance and monitoring.

Unfortunately, the word “surveillance” sometimes brings up negative connotations: over-the-shoulder monitoring, tracking and recording—something like an Orwellian “big brother” or worse. But in many business sectors, surveillance is a necessary part of compliance work. (And usually it’s a lot less exciting than the spy-movie implications might make it seem.)

Unlike a surveillance system at home, surveillance strategies in financial institutions or commodity trading organizations rely heavily on detecting misconduct and stopping it as quickly as possible. What constitutes misconduct can range from money laundering to bribery, collusion, and insider trading.

Bottom line? The bad behaviors may vary, but the ways corporations detect it is largely the same: communications surveillance.

What Is eComms Surveillance?

eComms surveillance refers to the monitoring of all the electronically produced communications created by an employee at an organization. These communications typically include emails, chats, and text messages, and the volume of data is huge. Since the exponential growth of remote working, more than 333 million emails are sent per day. And even before the pandemic, the average Slack user sent more than 200 messages a day.

It’s no surprise that most business communications take place electronically, so finding a way to monitor and record communications and reduce risk is key. Reviewing and analyzing electronic communications from texts to emails requires the ability to see each conversation as a puzzle piece, not a smoking gun. Like any intelligence gathering mission, understanding context and seeing the whole picture is crucial. Minimizing misconduct and stopping bad actors must start with an effective eComms surveillance tool.

How Does eComms Surveillance Work?

Traditionally, monitoring electronic communications has started with lexicon-based searches. Platforms ingest communications, then analyze them based on words that have been deemed risky. If a message includes the words being monitored, then the system alerts the analyst and they will investigate further.

It’s a repeated cycle that looks like this day after day:

  1. Ingest communications. Communications from text, chat, and emails must be brought into a surveillance platform from native enterprise systems.
  2. Analyze. Content is run through the system to look for any potentially risky content.
  3. Alert. A signal is generated and sent to a surveillance analyst to review.
  4. Clear or escalate. The alerted communication is either deemed risky and escalated for further investigation, or cleared of risk.

Unfortunately, detecting true misconduct in this way can be difficult because bad actors are smart and, as we know, words can have a variety of meanings. Organizations attempt to abate this situation by adapting keyword searches based on internal lingo and other vocabulary tactics, but it’s not a fool-proof system. Historically, surveillance is still more of an alert factory than an efficient detection system.

Organizations have an army of reviewers who spend their days looking over a mountain of alerts—which, ultimately, are mostly irrelevant. They review, escalate, and repeat day after day, mostly sifting through junk. When you have so many false positives, an army of people wastes a lot of time reviewing and clearing those alerts. However, by utilizing a modernized eComms surveillance system, teams can more efficientlly identify true risk.

Why is Modern eComms Surveillance Better?

With today’s massive data volumes, communication surveillance platforms need to drastically reduce the number of false positives generated in order for compliance teams to keep up with alerts. This starts with two crucial areas of technology: artificial intelligence and machine learning. No longer just buzzwords, these tools can significantly improve the effectiveness of communications surveillance and allow for teams to find more risk using less resources.

Modern platforms seamlessly pull communications from enterprise systems like Slack, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Bloomberg, Gmail, and more. As alerts are reviewed, machine learning running in the background, the platform learns from every decision—noticing what is usually a false positive and what is true risk, and adapting alerts for the future.

Artificial intelligence further reduces alerts by removing non-authored content like spam, newsletters, headers and footers, and confidentiality disclaimers from alerts. Relativity Trace’s proprietary email thread deduplication takes it a step further by locating old email content within new emails, confirming that it was already analyzed, and preventing it from generating another alert.

Modern eComms surveillance platforms outperform lexicon-only systems by utilizing best-in-class technology. Unencumbered by alerts on duplicative or non-authored eComms, reviewers can spend their time on true risk—not simply clearing false positive alerts. For example, after implementing Relativity Trace’s AI-powered surveillance platform, Vitol reduced their false positive alerts by 92 percent.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and proactively monitoring electronic communications is the best way to reduce misconduct and avoid billion-dollar fines. eComms channels and volumes are only going to increase, but with a modern surveillance platform, organizations can sift through these communications with ease and reduce misconduct of all types.

Buyer’s Guide: Communication Surveillance Software

Cassandra Morrison is a senior specialist in content marketing at Relativity, with a special focus on the platform's communication surveillance solution: Relativity Trace.

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