“What I do is not rocket science,” says Wilson selfdeprecatingly. “It’s something every manager does. We’ve just formalised it a bit more.” Ironically, the investigative course gives Wilson no more power than any private individual. In fact, the NSW Commercial Agents and Private Inquiry Agents Act 2004 expressly states that the licence provides no additional power, authority or immunity. “As far as I can tell,” Wilson says, “the purpose of the licencing is to ensure standards are maintained within the industry, so it’s more of a compliance regime than anything else. The purpose of the licence is to protect the public from PIs.” So, now to the obvious question is: ‘why do it’? “The course taught me how to plan an investigation. It taught me strategy – otherwise you just jump on Google and stick in a person’s name. “I learnt about many sources of information: ASIC, Yellow Pages, and skip-tracing services,” he says.
For Wilson, the ASX’s company announcement site is usually his first port of call. “The technique is to put together a timeline of releases,” he says. As well, there’s an ‘Investigators’ Forum’, an online area for PIs, “where you can ask a question and someone with more experience will tell you where to look”, he says. “The process is a qualityassurance gate,” Wilson says. “Once it fails, you move on. I don’t write a 10-page report on what I’ve found.” Most PIs work on insurance claims and infidelity cases, but Wilson sees the potential for a company specialising in financial services’ cases. Musing on the possibilities, he dwells on the possibility of “a firm specialising in background checks and financial investigations for the wealth management and investment banking industries. I would love to run a company like that…” But he quickly adds that the Atom small-cap fund is sticking with the small-, micro-, and nanocap equities.
There were cloaks, but no daggers, during the PI course, with a three-day covert ‘tailing’ simulation in which Wilson was tracked. Yes, he threw off the team trailing him; but yes, he too lost his target. “Tailing a person is a lot more difficult than you think,” he laughs, adding that he hasn’t donned his deerstalker cap during office hours. “I don’t use my licence for work – just the skills I’ve learned,” he says. Some of his best information sources are journalists, Wilson concedes, because typically they’ve written stories about the companies that Atom is considering investing in. “I’ll phone a journalist and ask them about someone or a company. I never hide who I am.” But, ever the sleuth, Wilson adds that “just because newspapers say it, that doesn’t make it right. We always then try to verify the information to get a feasible explanation.” At the end of the interview, Wilson exits, stage left, to see his auditor … allegedly. But, he picks up the fedora near his desk and smiles enigmatically as the lift doors open.