On Trend: Managing Increasing Personal Security Risks

In April 2019, a Forbes article reported that Facebook spent more than USD 22 million on travel and personal security in protection of its co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2018. While the figure is alarming, the fact that it is almost double the USD 9.1 million spent the year before is even more significant. The figures may not be the same for other ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) and their families; however, Zuckerberg’s security bill does reflect a global growing interest in and expenditure on security, with more wealthy individuals paying greater attention to their security needs and the sophisticated means necessary to keep themselves and their families protected.

Additional reporting around Zuckerberg’s security bill reveals that almost USD 3 million was spent on private air travel in 2018. People often associate using private jets with convenience and glamor, but choosing private aircraft over commercial options has in fact been an integral part of security programs for individuals and families needing protection. This is because non-commercial aircraft can provide levels of control and privacy that cannot otherwise be achieved. According to The Jet Traveler Report 2018, “commercial flights present a significant risk, by comparison. The shared nature of first-class cabins — even with the use of private suites, VIP lounges, and discreet boarding — means that fliers are at risk of recognition” because information about their location, movements, and security detail is exposed. Interestingly, private jet ownership is not always the solution to this risk, as details concerning registration can be accessed with relative ease — cue an increased interest in private aviation membership programs and on-demand charter services.

Using private travel companies can reassure UHNWIs and their security providers that all those who are involved in their travel arrangements are highly skilled and will do what is necessary to ensure their safety. Leading security risk-management firms rigorously vet candidates to ensure that they employ only the most skilled individuals. They also train their employees to understand the importance of handling clients’ details discreetly.

When wealthy individuals arrive at their destinations away from home, they often appoint bodyguards, for example, to scout every location they will visit and identify security risks, including the possibility of terrorism, kidnapping, or robbery.

In 2016, reality TV and beauty mogul Kim Kardashian West made news headlines when five robbers entered her luxury rental apartment in Paris, France, and robbed her at gunpoint of jewels worth more than USD 6 million. Kardashian West was in the city for Paris Fashion Week. Just before the incident, she had posted images of herself with her magnificent diamonds on social networks. Kardashian West’s insurer later sued her bodyguard for negligence, alleging that a lock had been missing or broken and an intercom system had not been functional. Both of these are critical security features that security providers should have checked and resolved before Kardashian West’s arrival.

While Kardashian West had been alone in the apartment that evening, with no security detail, the incident highlighted the efficiency with which the robbers were able to establish where she was, work out when she would be most vulnerable, and overcome the location’s security. More recently, in May 2019, Austrian–American actor and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger’s safety was compromised, despite the presence of a visible security detail, while he attended the annual Arnold Classic Africa event in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the event, an individual ran at Schwarzenegger. The star’s security was quick to respond to the assault, and fortunately Schwarzenegger wasn’t hurt. Schwarzenegger had also been posting online — in this case, his movements. A key part of both of these unfortunate incidents was the way that people with criminal intent used social media as an intelligence tool; innocent posts had given away clues that they could use for illegal purposes.

A policy of posting locations on social media only once the individual has departed may form part of a defensive security strategy designed to throw off potential criminals. This may be particularly important when someone fears kidnapping, or if security believes that the risk of kidnapping is higher than usual.

Kidnappers recently abducted Tanzanian billionaire Mohammed Dewji — reported to be Africa’s youngest billionaire — from a hotel gym in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, then held him hostage for a week. Although abductions may be declining, this incident shows there is cause for concern and a need for comprehensive security measures, even when wealthy individuals are pursuing ordinary activities. Many people are opposed to having security with them constantly — probably because they feel that protection agents could infringe their freedom to live flexible and private lives. However, there are strategies to work around this. For instance, frequent UHNW travelers and their families can engage countersurveillance and dual-role employees. This approach, together with better awareness of basic security practices, can reduce the need for visible security.

The number of deaths due to terrorist attacks has dropped in recent years, yet 67 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism in 2017. According to the Global Terrorism Index, this is the second highest number of countries since 2002 (although still a decrease from the 79 countries that recorded at least one death in 2016). Because of this continuing threat, many UHNWIs fear terrorism and use protection officers, choosing to have a skilled professional guide them safely through any potential strikes, even at apparently low-risk venues such as Disney World.

A holistic approach to personal security would be incomplete without a sharp assessment of an individual’s online existence. In many instances, UHNW families spend millions on their physical security needs but neglect to allocate the same resources and attention to their digital lives. The results can include exposing banking information, identity data, travel itineraries, and more.

An effective security plan should also include home security, beyond baseline elements such as walls and fences. Bloomberg reports that “typical measures inside residences can include ballistic windows, cameras, safe rooms, reinforced doors…and simple things such as strong hinges to prevent doors from being knocked down”. The same report highlights the role of features that might seem of minor importance, such as dense vegetation and crushed gravel — which makes a noise when walked on — between the house and external fence or wall. These can provide an additional layer of protection against intruders who breach the first barrier.

It is also important for UHNWIs to consider using companies that offer more integrated security that spans security and risk-management solutions. A comprehensive approach will ensure that security solutions are layered so that they cover all areas of the client’s life. The strategies below can complement an approach of this sort:
Know your employees
Conduct thorough background screening to ensure that you are hiring the most suitable staff. Screen employees regularly before and during their employment to identify any areas of concern. Review publicly available financial information to uncover risks such as unmanageable debt or other financial distress.
Implement appropriate monitoring and communication channels
Have the appropriate technology to enable trusted members of your security team to monitor your home and keep track of where your family is. These channels should facilitate sharing information and communicating with family members, staff, security advisors, and law enforcement.
Stay alert when traveling
While traveling, use technology to your advantage, such as smart phones with GPS tracking. Carry a personal alarm system too — these are now so small and discreet that they can be taken anywhere without attracting attention.

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