We recently announced Nick Athanasi as a Senior Managing Director in the Technology segment in Dubai, where he will lead teams in the Middle East, Africa, and India. As one of the founding team members of our UK Technology segment in 2006, Nick is returning to the firm from his role as partner and Middle East leader for the Forensic Technology practice at a Big 4 consulting firm. We recently talked to Nick about coming back to FTI Technology and the issues on his radar in the regions he serves.
Nick, tell me about your background in forensic technology and working in the Middle East region.
I’ve been working in forensic technology since 1995, with my career starting in London. This was truly at the start of e-discovery and digital forensic investigations as we know them today. I had some technical background that provided a strong foundation for building a business around technical litigation services, which eventually evolved to document review consulting on large scale projects for major law firms and corporations in the UK. FTI Consulting purchased my firm G3 Consulting, and our team, including Craig Earnshaw and others, ultimately formed what is now the Technology practice in EMEA.
Various opportunities took me to other roles, including a five-year run at a Big 4 consulting firm , where I could scale my practice across EMEA and eventually move into a leadership role in the Middle East. I also spent more than two years in Germany running a significant auto industry investigation, which further exposed me to the nuances of running an investigation in different jurisdictions. I’ve worked on and led some of the most extensive discovery projects globally and have had the opportunity to collaborate with the most talented people in our field.
This role is a return to FTI Consulting for you. What brought you back?
The people and agility have always been really strong at FTI Consulting. When my former colleagues approached me about rejoining the team and helping grow the Middle East practice, I was immediately intrigued. After meeting Karen Briggs, who joined last year as the EMEA lead for our Technology and Forensic & Litigation Consulting segments, I realised that we had a very similar vision for expanding the segment and serving clients in emerging markets.
The option to return to the team and take on the mantle for supporting and driving the Technology segment’s increasing footprint across EMEA struck me as an important opportunity. I feel richer for the experience of working in the Big 4, as it has given me a new perspective that will help my team and my clients. Looking forward, I’m very energised by the breadth and depth of the people here at FTI Consulting and how we as a firm can collaborate to take on significant challenges and deliver on any size project for clients.
What are your key focus areas as you take on this new leadership position?
FTI Technology has a well-established business in Africa, India and the Middle East, and I’ll be working on expanding our offerings and talent in these regions. I want to make sure we have a strong local presence and agility—with expertise in digital forensics, e-discovery, information governance, data & analytics and business and technology advisory—throughout all of our key markets.
These regions are also very fluid from a regulatory and political perspective, so I’ll focus on helping clients navigate changes and leading our team in determining the most effective strategies for localisation. I understand that clients here, in the Middle East, need consultants fluent in Arabic and other local languages and bring international experience and technical expertise. Our team also understands and believes in Saudization and Emiratization. To that end, we’ll be hiring locally and establishing a local talent programme to demonstrate to our clients in these countries that we’re committed to supporting local communities, innovation and development throughout the Middle East as well as in Africa and India.
How will FTI Technology address the key challenges clients in the region are facing?
Local talent is vital to our growth, but it’s also integral to our clients’ relevance and success. We’re positioned to help our clients adjust to the changes on this front and collaborate on their initiatives to cultivate and train local talent. Alongside this will be a push for data localisation, with data centres and data support staff situated in the country where it originated.
Our clients in these regions are also under severe regulatory pressure. New regulations and data privacy requirements have more teeth than we’ve seen in the past, and activity is ramping up quickly. We’re also seeing the definition of financial crime broaden to include counter-terrorism, anti-corruption and anti-fraud initiatives, which will require clients to up the ante in terms of how they utilise technology to detect and respond to red flags in behaviour. Overall in the Middle East, there has been a degree of compliance fatigue, so we’ll also be highly focused on helping clients bolster their compliance programmes and respond efficiently to investigations.
More, in the coming year and beyond, clients here are likely to experience an increased need for digital forensic experts to investigate and remediate security-related issues. The pandemic has amplified the risk of insider threats and operational weaknesses, and we expect clients will increasingly need support conducting forensic audits, root cause analysis and other security investigations.
Our team has the expertise to provide this assistance and help clients analyse, visualise and review ever-increasing volumes of data while focusing on reducing costs and mitigating risks.
What future trends are you keeping an eye on?
I’m very interested in the concept of leveraging advanced technology to proactively detect and investigate issues before they escalate into a crisis. There’s a lot of untapped potential for our clients to use technology in innovative ways to move from a reactive to a proactive position. We’re getting closer and closer to solutions that can accurately flag financial crimes, suspicious activity and items of interest in an investigation in real-time. I’m watching the developments in these areas closely and thinking about building upon them to create solutions for our clients.
What’s something you’d like to share about your life outside of work?
Family is central to my life outside of work. I have two grown children and four grandchildren who still live in the UK. My wife and I are looking forward to travel opening back up to visit our family again, and better still, for them to visit us.
Here in Dubai, I’m embracing the region where we live now and enjoying all it has to offer. I particularly love the desert climate during winter. Driving in the desert, playing golf and just getting outside in the cold sand and under clear skies for a barbecue is magical.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.