As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the market for employment background screening is in an intriguingly contradictory position. On the one hand, demand is at an all-time high.
On the other hand, there are also more Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) selling screening services than ever before and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate one service provider from another. Demand, whether driven by strong employment or by staff churn in the U.S. has gone nearly as high as it can go (limited, as it is, by the number of employers and employees in the economy), and all the CRAs are jockeying for a share of the same group of customers.
Background screening is edging toward becoming a commodity, with the major players in the industry offering more or less the same service. Buyers perceive that the only real differentiator is price.
For a CRA, the situation is a recipe for churn, severe margin compression, and unpredictable month-to-month revenue.
How can you break the cycle and find room to grow in this uncertain, yet supersaturated market?
In this ebook, we’ll lay out the case that CRAs need to find ways to break away from the pack with unique offerings that create additional revenue streams. Specifically, we believe the most exciting new revenue opportunity for CRAs is Continuous Criminal Monitoring.
Later on, we’ll explain Continuous Criminal Monitoring, how it can help your background screening business grow, and why your customers will demand that their CRA provide it. But first, let’s examine how the industry got here.
“The U.S. professional background screening business has never been hotter. Eight out of 10 employers use it for full-time hires.” —Mississippi Business Journal, March 2019
The demand for employment background screening has undergone remarkable growth since the start of the century. The executive director of the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA) told the Mississippi Business Journal in 2019, “The industry is relatively young. It wasn’t very common even 20 years ago.”
What a difference two decades make. One research firm reports there are now close to 1,900 background screening companies in the market. Over the past five years, the industry has grown at an annualized rate of 4.8%, exceeding $3 billion in value.
A national survey commissioned by PBSA and performed by HR.com found that “background checks are nearly universal.”96% of employers surveyed — representing organizations of all sizes — said they conduct one or more types of employment background screening. 83% screen all full-time employees, and 67% screen all part-time employees. Of the employers that screen, 97% conduct “some form of criminal history check.”
What accounts for the meteoric growth of the background screening industry? Here are a few of the major factors:
Consolidation and commoditization have gripped the background screening industry. Broadly speaking, customers see one criminal background check as good as another, leaving CRAs with little to differentiate themselves other than cost. To justify the price for your services, you either have to demonstrate more value or be pennies cheaper than a competitor.
As customers jump from one CRA to another in search of the lowest price, customers churn and margins get squeezed tighter and tighter.
(Prices for background checks have been declining for many years, but until recently, CRAs have stayed profitable by becoming more efficient. Now, it seems, most CRAs have reached peak efficiency for their core services and cannot lower the cost of goods sold any further.)
To compete and grow, CRAs need to find new ways to demonstrate value and earn revenue. One way to do this is to look at the role of the CRA in terms of the lifecycle of employment and not only an event that occurs at the time of hire. Successful CRAs must expand the vision of their business beyond one-time-only pre-employment screening.
There are few underexploited opportunities:
For the rest of this ebook, we’ll focus on that last opportunity, Continuous Criminal Monitoring. We believe that the most promising source of revenue growth for CRAs in the coming decade lies in expanding the vision and role of the CRA beyond the singular event of hiring employees.
“Most companies screen for red flags in their employees’ work, legal or financial history once, before they come on board on day one. The problem is that those checks represent a moment in time. If an employee commits a crime, has a license revoked or loses work authorization after being hired, the employer may never find out.” — Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
The vast majority of employers conduct background screening only during the hiring process or just before a new hire starts work. The background check has become a right of passage in the employment process similar to reference checks. Eighty-nine percent of organizations never rescreen employees after the initial background check, reports the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
And when rescreening occurs, it is typically sporadic or at best, periodic. A re-screen might be triggered by a promotion or addition of new responsibilities. Months and years may pass between screenings, during which time, employees may be arrested, convicted, and even incarcerated without their employers’ knowledge.
In a 2015 study of over 400,000 employees, Appriss Insights found that 12% of the workforce is likely to be arrested over the next five years. 20% is likely to be arrested over the next seven years.
The period after an employee is initially screened and hired can represent a significant risk to your clients. Companies can be held accountable for their lack of knowledge about their employees. Realizing this is what drives companies to commission re-screens at the time of employment events, such as a promotion. But clearly, this is a hit-or-miss approach that would be akin to the TSA picking only passengers who upgraded to first class from coach to be subject to a pat-down screen when boarding an airplane. Everyone goes through the metal detector each time they board a plane because that’s the approach that works.
Continuous Criminal Monitoring takes the mystery — and therefore, the risk — out of the post-hire conduct of employees.
Continuous Criminal Monitoring is a post-hire technology for employers and CRAs that provides real-time alerts on criminal activity in a workforce population. Continuous Criminal Monitoring alerts employers to potential criminal activity in real-time, throughout the duration of employment, and without the need to filter out noise and constantly monitor reports.
The background screening industry is just one of many fields that have been revolutionized in recent years by improvements in data access and the ability to analyze large data sets.
Here is how Continuous Criminal Monitoring typically works:
It depends on the Continuous Criminal Monitoring provider.
SJV Data Solutions’ Continuous Criminal Monitoring data solution is nationwide, covering 45 states from more than 2,800 incarceration facilities and includes 85% of all incarcerations in the U.S. We have more than 160 million booking records and are adding more than a million new records every month.
Our solution goes no more than 15 minutes between data refreshes.
Expanding the vision for your CRA to cover the employee lifecycle by adding a Continuous Criminal Monitoring solution to your CRA services can dramatically increase your marketability as an organization. In our opinion, it is the best way to grow your business in 2020 by helping employers mitigate risk and create a safer workforce during the entire employment lifecycle.
“We estimate that Continuous Criminal Monitoring will generate over a billion dollars a year for the background screening industry over the next couple years and help background screening companies like you increase margins and profitability and create more value for your company through subscription pricing.” — Nick Fishman, consultant and background screening industry expert
The executive director of the Professional Background Screeners Association told SHRM her organization is seeing more industries embrace the concept of Continuous Criminal Monitoring, “particularly in industries with access to vulnerable people or where direct, one-to-one consumer access is a part of the employee’s or contractor’s scope of work.”
Continuous criminal monitoring is evolving into a must-have for healthcare and financial services organizations and other companies in industries that require periodic or continuous screening. The penalty for employing an individual with certain criminal activity in a healthcare field can be as much as $10,000 per employee per day. FDIC financial institutions can be fined as much as $1 million for each day they employ someone with certain criminal records.
Beyond regulatory and liability concerns, however, Continuous Criminal Monitoring helps keep workplaces safe.
In the era of gig work and job-hopping, employers and employees know less and less about the people who staff their worksites, provide their services, and interact with their customers. Continuous criminal monitoring is the measure of reassurance organizations have been searching for.
Employers are beginning to see their role in ensuring workplace safety as similar to the Transportation Security Administration’s role in ensuring the safety of airline passengers.
The TSA doesn’t just screen people the first time they take a flight. If you’ve ever been in an airport, you know everyone is subject to TSA screening, regardless of how frequent a flyer they are.
Conducting background screening of employees only when they’re first hired is like screening airline passengers only for the first flight of their lives. Periodic checks tied to events — such as promotions — is like screening passengers only when they upgrade from coach to first class.
This is not an effective way to ensure safety for all. Who knows what life events have occurred in the intervening period?
Employers should screen continuously so that they, and all employees, feel safe and risk is minimized.
Traditional pre-employment background checks bring in one-time-only-fees. And as we noted above, companies do not perceive significant differences between background check providers. Most organizations simply choose the CRA that charges the least.
Churn is a fact of life in the background screening industry, as CRAs compete to claim and reclaim customers with rock-bottom pricing.
Becoming part of the way employers manage the employee lifecycle, especially using Continuous Criminal Monitoring is the answer to the problem of churn. It will allow you to enter into profitable long-term contracts with your customers to monitor their employees throughout the tenure of their employment. You can charge using a subscription model, rather than individual fees, creating a predictable stream of revenue. In addition, if you’re doing the long term Continuous Criminal Monitoring, a customer is more likely to use you to do the pre-employment screen as well. There’s a stabilizing effect on your traditional business because you’re now viewed as part of the employee lifecycle at the company, not just a one-and-done part of getting hired.
So many companies offer traditional background screening that it has become a commodity. But only a few CRAs currently offer Continuous Criminal Monitoring, and fewer still offer “true” continuous monitoring (see the “How to Add Continuous Criminal Monitoring to Your Services” section below for an explanation).
As demand increases, more CRAs will almost certainly enter the Continuous Criminal Monitoring business. There will be a substantial first-mover advantage.
Continuous Criminal Monitoring is a product for which you can charge a premium, which in turn will increase your company’s profitability and valuation.
Your current main point of contact with your background screening customers is likely someone in human resources. Continuous Criminal Monitoring gives you the chance to extend that relationship beyond HR to departments such as compliance, legal, and risk management. You also become part of the way the company thinks about the entire lifecycle of employment.
A larger footprint within your clients’ organizations will give your company permanency as a trusted and essential partner.
True continuous monitoring. Thanks to our close partnership with Appriss Insights, we offer the only solution in the marketplace that allows real-time monitoring of employees and contractors after they’ve been hired and throughout the tenure of their employment.
The only dataset of its kind in existence. The proprietary Appriss Insights data feed is received in near real-time from direct interfaces with nearly 3,000 individual incarceration agencies. Data collected includes multiple identifiers such as name, DOB, SSN, and DLN.
Convenience and ease-of-use with SJV’s Employee Population Management Platform, SJV Connect. SJV Connect is a cloud-based, people-data platform, built on top of our best-in-class database. With SJV Connect, you can make and track all your orders in one location, follow critical reporting metrics, and set custom workflows for notifications.
If you’re ready to hear more about the SJV Population Management Platform, Continuous Criminal Monitoring, or both, click here to connect with one of our experts or give us a call at 800-203-0582.
For an informative deep dive into Continuous Criminal Monitoring, experience our free webinar, “Continuous Monitoring: Post Hire Innovations that Drive Revenue Growth.” This webinar features expert panelists from SJV and Appriss, as well as an independent viewpoint from background screening industry veteran Nick Fishman.