Financial Services

Published: July 6, 2022 | Updated: July 7, 2022

How Alain’s business is helping to tackle rogue operators and those infernal ‘car accident’ calls

Alain Desmier, Managing Director, Contact State: “What we’re trying to create is a level of transparency.” Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

It’s happened to us all – and it’s right up there as one of life’s irritations.

You get a phone call saying: ‘I’m ringing about your car accident’.

But you haven’t had a car accident and where did the caller get your phone number in the first place?

Too often it’s because you’ve registered online for a product or service.

Your contact details have subsequently fallen into the hands of rogue lead generation firms, often acting offshore, reselling data.

Alain Desmier is determined to put a stop to such unethical and, indeed, illegal practices.

Together with fellow director Mike Laming, pictured left, he launched Contact State Limited in 2019.

The company’s ambition is to certify every data transaction in Europe.

Alain, who lives in Lilliput, Poole, said: “If you go online and give your details for, perhaps, a mortgage you’re trying to get or a life insurance policy, then in return you should get something back that certifies where you’ve given your details.

“I liken it to buying a round of drinks in the pub and getting a receipt back.

“That receipt tells you how much you’ve paid and who has your details.

“From a data point of view no-one should be able to sell people’s data without the explicit consent of the consumer.

“In America there are businesses like us.

“If I was to call you, and you haven’t given your consent, then you can sue me.

“Because of that the industry in the United States had to clean up.

“The gamble I made three years ago was that the ICO – Information Commissioner’s Office – would look at that and say ‘that works in the United States so let’s bring it here’.

“Slowly, but surely, that’s happening in terms of fines being handed out to businesses that don’t have consent.

“If you apply online you should freely give your consent and understand what you’re consenting to.

“Before you press submit on a tradesman comparison app you should understand that you’re going to get four phone calls, who’s got your data and how long they’ll hold that data for.

“That doesn’t happen right now.

“What we’re trying to create is a level of transparency so that from test driving cars to mortgages to whatever it might be, a consumer is protected and understands who has their details.”

Contact State’s first client was Poole-based Health-on-Line, now AXA Health.

Alain, 39, said: “They wanted to set the standard and know where every single lead is coming from.

“They were client zero.

“We’re hugely indebted to Mike Dalby – one of the founders of Health-on-Line – and that whole team as they got our business started.”

Today Contact State has 18 clients.

Most are large intermediary financial services firms or insurers with Contact State supporting with due diligence work.  

Last year Contact State was acquired by Verisk, the Nasdaq-listed analytics firm based in New Jersey.

Alain said: “We had got to the stage where we were stuck in a few corporate queues.

“Clients would say to us: ‘We love what you’re doing but you’re two guys and we’re not letting you loose on our data.’

“We took the decision we had to get investment.

“We met Verisk, a huge global US company with 10,000 staff, and they said ‘look we like what you’re doing, come and join our group and be part of what we’re doing.

“We’ll support you and let you build the product.”

Contact State, which employs four people, reports into Jornaya, a consumer insights platform acquired by Verisk in 2020.

“We have a ten-year plan of where we’re going,” said Alain, who is married to Emily with two children, aged six and three.

“We’re scaling through different industries that we seek to involve in this process.

“We’re in equity release, we’re in mortgage, we’re in insurance, we’ve got our eyes on higher education where consumers are signing up for degrees and then their details are being sold on.

“The investment by Verisk has given us great security to be able to grow and make the business a reality.”

Like many in London, Alain relocated his life, family and business to Dorset during the pandemic.

He had already been ‘half’ living in Poole for years as Emily is from the area.

The couple were married in Dorchester.

Alain said: “We’ve been fortunate to find clients that believe in what we believe in.

“They’ve really championed us and, because of that, we’ve been able to grow where other start-ups might struggle to get the trajectory and momentum.

“Above all, we’re making a positive difference.

“By getting our partners to require data certificates, we’re requiring rogue lead generators to change their behaviour or leave the market.

“That can only be a good thing.”