Left banking industry to start consulting company, Thompson Consulting Group
By Steve Yablonski
‘I’d traveled more than 100 days a year until the pandemic began. We only just recently started teaching live programs. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve become a complete online training business.’
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?
A: After graduating from SUNY Oswego, I started my career as a staff accountant for PriceWaterhouse. I left public accounting to work for a small bank. During my career, I have held the titles of assistant treasurer, security officer, compliance officer, treasurer, executive vice president and senior vice president. Also, working in volunteer associations, I’ve been a member of Rotary, SUNY Alumni Association, Success by Six, United Way and Salvation Army. I’ve served as a board member for Rotary for 15 years, president of the Alumni Association and master of the Mexico Masonic Lodge.
Q: What was the impetus to form your company, Thompson Consulting Group?
A: In 1999, I was chairman of a national committee for America’s Community Bankers that prepared a conference on “Operations, Technology and Security.” ACB asked me if I’d be interested in forming my own company, focusing on security, becoming a consultant to their banks nationally.
Q: And so, how did Thompson Consulting Group come to be?
A: America’s Community Bankers’ offer would provide me thousands of banks as clients on day one of the new business. As this was a niche market that’s hard to enter, my competition would be limited. Most of my competitors would be gone in five years; it made sense to become a consultant. I would establish Thompson Consulting Group, LLC, in 2000.
Q: Can you tell us how much you invested in the company?
A: As a private company, we don’t release our financial information.
Q: Is your business state, national or international?
A: While we’ve worked internationally in Europe and the Caribbean Islands, we seldom take those assignments. We’re nationally based, having taught or worked with individual clients in 49 states. When I started this business one goal was to visit the entire United States having someone else pay my travel costs. It looks like I may have to become a tourist to visit that final state.
Q: What state haven’t you visited?
A: Alaska. That state is interesting; bank robbers really can’t run and hide easily.
Q: Sounds like your business has some interesting or unusual services. Can you tell us about bank robberies?
A: When a branch of any financial institution is robbed often, they believe it was their time to be robbed. Normally, after the third robbery in a short time, we’ll receive a call from them. We recently worked with a bank in Des Moines, Iowa, who had been robbed three times in seven weeks. What we train at our programs is to think like a criminal. When we arrive at a location that’s been robbed regularly, we review many different factors, using crime prevention thorough environmental design, a science on what causes people to rob. We review the bank premises, starting several blocks away from the branch, looking for halfway housing, methadone clinics, businesses or other things that would be attractive to the criminal element.
We know bank robbers seldom rob an institution without first casing it in advance. We review the building looking to harden the target. We enter without management or anyone accompanying us, to see if staff will even recognize us in the first 60 seconds. If they don’t, we case the interior, like bank robbers have said they do, to determine if this location feels right to them.
Q: What services do you offer?
A: Our mission is to assist financial institutions in competing more effectively. We provide services and strategic alliances specifically targeted to risk management and security. Our primary objective is to provide education that changes people’s work habits, perceptions and abilities.
These services include, but are not limited to, full- and half-day workshops, webinars, keynote addresses, conference breakout sessions and onsite training. The topics we instruct on regularly include internal fraud, robbery awareness, physical security, fraud, social engineering and emerging trends.
Our alliances allow us to offer additional programs on penetration testing, computer forensics, account takeover analysis and workplace violence.
Q: Your business also uses social engineering in working with financial institutions. What is that?
A: Social engineering is confidence games played by criminals to gain access to information or your premises. Your readers would want to know a weakness they may have that can be easily exploited. We always read what signs they have on entry doors. If they have a door marked ‘employee entrance,’ that is a weak point to attack. The night we arrive, we check the doors after the staff has gone home. Computer penetration companies, social engineers and people like ourselves have many ways to enter through that door.
Another entry point for criminals is the ‘smoker’s door.’ Just walking around the building after hours you’ll find that location easily; just look for cigarette butts, coffee cups or other items that reflect that this is the entry they use. We have even seen what is referred to as ‘attractive nuisances’ like a chair left outside an entry door. Sometimes we will even find a bar that tells us they jam this door open during the day. This provides social engineers another entry point. They just dress as someone you would expect to see inside the building allowing a social engineer to go just about any place they would want. One of our staff recently penetrated a business in New Jersey all the way to the CEO’s office. He took the CEO’s business card off his desk to prove he’d been there.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have three support staff and six subject matter experts.
Q: How would you describe your business philosophy?
A: Treat every client like you would want to be treated; with respect, understanding and professionalism. Above all else, really listen to them to understand their needs.
Q: How has the pandemic had an impact on your business?
A: Our life changed on March 13, 2020, when a majority of our clients canceled conferences for the duration of 2020. On March 16, 2020, all of our clients started contacting us to change our programs to virtual or online presentations. I’d traveled more than 100 days a year until the pandemic began. We only just recently started teaching live programs. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve become a complete online training business. We are working now to place all the programs that we teach to a new online training platform that can be accessed 24/7 by banks or credit unions. We perform customized training for financial institutions right down to using their PowerPoint formats, at a cost. However, our clients have found the cost for one full day of training for their entire staff is often less than sending one person to a national training program or sending multiple people out of office for training. This even applies if they want us to teach them in person. We have trained several local financial institutions, some on a regular basis.
Q: How about in your personal life?
A: The biggest change in my personal life is being home with my wife and dogs. They all seem to enjoy having me around.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: I personally have trained more than 54,000 banking professionals and the firm has trained more than 150,000 people.
The best part of the job is the personal interaction with people during our programs. We work hard to make it look easy, said one of our consultants.
Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would your job be?
Q: When do you feel the most at ease?
A: When I am spending time with my wife and while playing with my dogs.
Q: Who influenced you the most?
A: My teachers and mentors, who are too many to mention by name.