Visual Intelligence: A New CFO Tool for Due Diligence and Forecasting

Even before Hurricane Harvey dumped 24.5 trillion gallons of rainwater on Texas in August, the data crunchers at UK-based research consultancy Geospatial Insight were already at work. It was clear that the Category 4 cyclone would be incredibly destructive, and that meant Geospatial’s insurance clients would need the latest data to estimate how extensive the damage was – information that corporate and individual customers would also need to support the eventual claims they would make.

Visual intelligence helps potential acquirers confirm that a factory exists, for example. Satellite and aerial tracking can also establish where a container ship is at any given moment, and monitor the movement of cargo

Geospatial is uniquely placed to deliver accurate data, says CEO David Fox, because of its “strong relationships with all the key commercial satellite data providers” as well as its access to “all data that is openly available through national space programs such as NASA and the European Space Agency.” Geospatial also uses information gathered by aerial survey partners and drone operators, and data from automated scraping of social media feeds such as Twitter.

The result: regularly updated visual intelligence on Geospatial’s dedicated customer portal for clients to use as they estimated losses and payouts from the disaster and modelled the impact on the bottom line, forecasts and strategy – a key function of the CFO and the finance team. In Texas, the information included high-resolution imagery from a Midas 5 camera carried by a light aircraft that Geospatial commissioned to map the most affected region.

The many uses of visual intelligence

Mapping Hurricane Harvey’s wrath is just one of the many applications of visual intelligence. Beverley Adams, head of Catastrophe Planning and Response at risk advisory Guy Carpenter, recalls how the re-insurance industry was blindsided by the “level of aggregation risk” in the Port of Tianjin in China. A factory explosion in 2015 had flattened buildings and homes and killed more than 170 people.

“By deploying satellites and drones over major ports, it is possible to accurately track the movement of stock and then quickly ascertain the potential for any major accumulation exposures,” says Adams.

Fox says Geospatial also helps clients with due diligence. “We have done so to validate various investments in, for example, mining stocks and particular mine sites,” he reports. Visual intelligence helps potential acquirers confirm that a factory exists, for example, and that it is humming with activity (or not). Satellite and aerial tracking can also establish where a container ship is at any given moment, and monitor the movement of cargo as it is unloaded to the port and transported to the warehouse.

Beyond tracking, Geospatial uses other tools to extract more information from images. “Alongside our proprietary machine learning algorithms, we also develop bespoke analytical software, providing unique solutions for geospatial problems,” explains Fox. “For example, Geospatial Insight has developed software that automatically calculates the capacity and fill-level of on-shore oil tanks based upon the spectral and geometric characteristics of the imagery being analyzed.”

Can the many pieces of information be stitched together to give an advance picture of GDP growth? “We can, though we don’t offer this as a service just yet,” says Fox.

In theory, economists can infer what economic activity looks like in near-real time with information gleaned from images of shipping movements, port activity, factory activity, progress of construction projects, traffic in supermarkets, shopping centers, cinemas and so on. This can supplement and validate traditional data such as employment numbers, trade figures, fixed asset investment and business confidence.

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