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The Five Fundamentals of Automated Background Checks


Automation is transforming the criminal background screening industry, helping consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) complete more reports, in less time, with fewer researchers, and for lower costs than ever before.

As a CRA, understanding how automated background checks work, the benefits and drawbacks of the technology, and how the various automation vendors differ is critical to remaining competitive and growing your business over the coming years. The most successful CRAs of the 2020s will be those that make the most of this promising opportunity.

What do you need to know to make the right decisions about automated background checks for your company?

We designed this article to work as an “Automation 101” introduction for CRAs just beginning to explore their options around background screening automation. Understanding these five concepts will help you participate in informed conversations with automated background check providers and plan for your company’s automated future.

1. Automated Court Research Takes Error-Prone Humans Out of the Equation

Automated background screening tools dispatch computerized agents to “scrape” court websites for arrest and conviction records. The technique is a form of robotic process automation (RPA), a technical term for software emulating the work of humans.

Automated agents are superior to their flesh-and-blood counterparts in a number of ways.

For one thing, they’re much faster. Automated systems can return results nearly instantaneously. Background screening automation is also more cost-effective than employing a full team of human researchers.

Finally, automated tools are less prone to error than humans. Your automated agents will never enter a name incorrectly or skip over a page by accident.

2. Automated Background Checks Will Not Entirely Replace the Need for Skilled Human Researchers

This point may seem like a contradiction of the previous one, but the two are complementary. The most effective CRAs of the near future will be those that combine the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of automated background screening with the expertise and skill of experienced background screening specialists.

We’re not suggesting you let your whole team of researchers go. In fact, automated background screening will allow your most trusted people to focus on the work for which they’re most suited — the really difficult jobs.

Not all court records are online. And many that are online fail to meet the individual quality standards necessary for automation. For the foreseeable future, some criminal background checks will continue to require manual research performed by people who know what to look for, where to find it, and how to present the information in an actionable format.

3. Automated Background Checks Are One of the Keys to Scaling Your CRA

The cost of labor prevents many CRAs from growing even when demand for their services is high. With a completely-manual operation, taking on more work also means onboarding, paying, and finding space for more researchers — a risky proposition in a market that tends to fluctuate.

On the other hand, with automation, a small team of elite specialists is all you need to handle any number of orders. Your human researchers will take on the problematic cases, and your automated system will breeze through the rest. (And if demand declines, the bots will not ask to be paid while they wait for more work.)

(Read more about how background screening automation helps CRAs grow here.)

4. There Are Two Ways to Implement Automated Background Screening: DIY or Outsourced

So now you may be thinking, “Automated criminal background checks sound like a good fit for my CRA. How do I get started?” You have two choices: create your own automated background screening software or partner with a company that has proven experience in RPA development.

The DIY approach has its advantages. For example, when you own the software, there are no per-search costs to contend with. You also have complete control of your system; in theory, you can configure it to report or omit any information you like.

We strongly encourage you to consider outsourcing, however. Designing, testing, and rolling out a piece of software from scratch is no small matter. Development takes time and money, along with internal expertise your company may lack.

Then there are maintenance costs to budget for. When something goes wrong with your home-built feeds or updates need to be made, you will not be able to rely on outside support.

(Our recent article breaks down the pros and cons of developing your own automated background screening software. Read it here.)

5. Not All Automation Vendors Are the Same

If you do choose to partner with a third-party automation provider (excellent decision), you should know that vendors can vary widely in quality. Choosing the right provider can save your company money, boost your efficiency, lessen your risk, and increase your profits. The wrong vendor can imperil your reputation with clients and generate endless headaches.

When comparing vendors, a good rule of thumb is to expect the same quality standards you would from a human researcher. Automated criminal background reports should be indistinguishable from manual ones.

We recently wrote about the four characteristics to look for when partnering with a third-party provider of automated background checks. They were:

  • An HTML audit trail. This will provide a backup layer of protection against lawsuits and regulatory challenges.
  • A commitment to actively keeping up with court access changes. Human experts should be continually monitoring the feeds to maintain their relevance.
  • High quality-control standards. Your clients will not tolerate errors — computer-generated or human.
  • The expertise to know what to look for. Your vendor should first and foremost be an expert in criminal background screening. An automation solution is only as effective as the people who programmed it.

Your Complete Guide to Criminal Background Screening Automation

Now that you understand the fundamentals of background screening automation, are you ready to go deeper?

Our free online guide for CRAs (also available as a convenient downloadable pdf) covers everything you need to know to transform your background screening business into an efficient, cost-effective growth machine.

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