A fake email address was all it took to unearth sensitive financial information.
It was a typical Sunday afternoon at the Mahtani-Cheung household. They had a usual whirlwind Sunday morning playing hands-on mum and dad, and had tired their 19-month-old cherub enough that she was completely conked out.
That gave them a two-hour respite, and as most boring Singaporean working couples would do, they decided to spend the next two hours sorting bills and looking at their finances.
Financial investigation techniques: Wife pretends to be husband!
Cheung, the founder of property real estate firm 99.co, is also a prominent angel investor in Singapore. He has invested in 22 start-ups and funds in the last five years.
But as any busy entrepreneur would tell you, keeping track of everything outside your primary job and immediate family is a luxury most can’t afford.
So Cheung, who is averse to all things boring and predictable, decided that they should add some colour to this exercise and make a game of updating their financial records.
They thought up a scheme where Mahtani would email his start-up investment CEOs or CFOs, asking them to provide the following supposedly confidential details:
- Date of investment
- Number of shares owned
- Price per share entered at
- Last round valuation
- Expected current value of shares
- Is the start-up planning on going for further investment rounds?
Some of the start-up CEOs knew Mahtani personally, while some didn’t know her but knew that Cheung was married to her. There were a handful who had no idea who she was.
Mahtani also CC’d a fake new email address containing Cheung’s name to make here request seem more legitimate.
The purpose of this experiment was to see how many start-ups would ping Cheung directly to confirm the request (showing good financial governance) vs. how many would just reply back to Mahtani with the information.
The result of the experiment shocked them.
Out of 15 emails they sent out:
- 2 replied back stating the email of Cheung on Mahtani’s request did not correspondent with the one on file, thus they could not release the information. (Good job!)
- 6 replied back immediately with the information requested
- 1 replied that they would collate the information and send it back shortly
- 1 replied that the information had already been shared and it’s not his job to resend it (WTF)
- 2 replied back with the full literature of the company, including board minutes and details of other business ventures and conversations they were having with Cheung (!!)
- 3 ignored the mail and have yet to reply
The experiment clearly showed that:
1. A number of startups don’t have good financial governance and this is an area that needs to be fixed.
2. It’s very easy for a spouse to get access to their partner’s financial records. With half of marriages ending in divorce, this could impact divorce settlements, especially since start-up investments are paper gains and valuations can be skewed by a number of factors.
3. Information is currency in this day and age and we all need to be vigilant in what details we share online.
4. Checking up on your finances as a couple activity can turn out to be pretty fun after all!