Atheneum Partners Review

Have you been contacted by an associate from Atheneum Partners with an opportunity to participate in a hour-long consulting call? Are you wondering if the opportunity — or Atheneum Partners— is legitimate or a scam? Here’s what you need to know about working with this global expert network.

Atheneum Partners Overview

Atheneum Partners Logo

Atheneum Partners GMBH is a mid-sized expert network headquartered in Berlin, Germany with offices in other 10 countries. It operates a Research as a Service (RaaS) product model to conduct primary research for management consulting firms, investment houses, and corporate clients. They offer a small variety of consulting products, including 1-hour consulting calls, primary research deliverables, and long-form consulting opportunities. Atheneum produces research for projects across 8 industries: Consumer Goods, Energy & Utilities, Financial Institutions, Healthcare, Industrials & Transportation, Materials & Natural Resources, and Public Policy. Atheneum Partners is an expert network that wants to leverage your industry knowledge for their clients.

Is Atheneum legitimate — or a scam?

Atheneum Partners is a legitimate company with a 10 year history that operates all over the world— it is not a scam.  In August, 2021, Atheneum announced that it had raised $150 million in equity investment, led by Guidepost Growth Equity. The company disclosed that is currently generating over $50 million in annual revenue, with growth rates of 50% or more in 2020 and 2021!

However, it’s noteworthy that in the process of researching this review, I found more than a few complaints from consultants about the company’s payment terms, timing, and occasional habit of not sending payment at all. It appears the company has addressed these complaints directly on forums and with the consultants themselves, but it’s concerning as it appears that these complaints are consistent over a long period of time, and continue through 2021. 

While these complaints do not mean the opportunity is a scam, it does indicate that the firm may have some chronic operational issues that could delay your payment longer than the industry standard. Atheneum’s payment terms are within 45 days, while most other expert networks issue payment within a few days or a couple of weeks of completing a project).

(And of course, you should always exercise caution when dealing with people whom you don’t know on the Internet. Beware of impersonators utilizing fake Atheneum Partners email addresses, and know that an expert network will never ask you to send them money.)

Onboarding with Atheneum Partners

If an associate from Atheneum Partners has reached out to you via email, phone call or LinkedIn, you have been selected for screening based on project criteria, including:

  1. You are a former employee of a company the client wants to know more about, usually for due diligence purposes, before purchasing or investing in the target company. You must be at least 6 months removed from your employment with the company to be eligible for participation.
  2. You are a current or former employee of a competitor of the company they are researching, and the client wants to know how the target company is positioned and viewed by competitors.
  3. You are an expert on a related topic, industry, or geography that can offer insight on the industry, even if you’re not overly familiar with the target company or product.

The associate will take a few minutes to explain the project parameters and have you fill out a survey to vet your relevant experience and knowledge. The survey is intended to solicit a high-level understanding of your ability and confidence is speaking to various subjects, and is not intended to substitute the client call. It’s also important to understand that filling out a survey doesn’t guarantee that your profile will be selected by the client. Even if you are not selected for this particular project, participating in this process will register you in their database, enabling you to be quickly selected for future projects.

At the end of the call, the associate will gather your availability for a 1-hour call, discuss your hourly consulting rate, and discuss their compliance policy, which you will need to review and accept to move forward in the process.

Atheneum Partners Consulting Rates 

Atheneum Partners payment problems
Atheneum Partners has received an above average number of complaints about payment issues.

Atheneum’s hourly consulting rates vary widely based on your relevant job title, and how many years you are removed from the industry or relevant job title. The closer you are to the relevant job title, the more likely you can command a higher rate for your expertise. You may have to listen closely to the type of questions they ask to ascertain what part of your employment history is most relevant, but often the associate will ask you directly about a specific title. 

The associate will usually offer an initial rate: $100 – $200 for a title below director, $200 – $350 for a title between director and C-suite, and $350 – $500 or more for someone with a C-suite role. It’s important to know that while this rate might be presented as a final offer, the actual hourly rate is up for negotiation. Some experts get paid $1,000+ for the 1 hour calls via Atheneum, but only if their knowledge is niche, related to a very large company, or the expert has a track record of successful client calls.

The best way to maximize your consulting rate is to let the associate know that you have worked with expert networks in the past and that you already have a set rate. Announcing your rate early in the call, or early in the negotiations, allows you to set the benchmark based on a range that makes the engagement worth your time, rather than allowing the associate’s metrics to dictate your pay. You should note that you can renegotiate your rate each time you are contacted for a project, so you can increase your rate over time as you become more comfortable participating in client calls.

It’s in your best interest to keep the call going as long as you can, as your hourly consulting rate is pro-rated based on the amount of time you’re in the call. According to their compliance document, Atheneum compensates for the initial 30 minutes, and then for every 15 minute increment beyond that, as well as an unpaid 5-minute leeway period provided to each client to wrap up a consultation.

Acing your Atheneum Partners Call

Most client calls are centered on a particular company, industry, or product. The client will ask you to discuss the vetting questions in much more detail than in the vetting process with the associate from Atheneum: core competitive metrics, competitive landscape for each industry vertical, product strategies, brand positioning, and customer loyalty are some examples of the topics you’ll be asked to elaborate on.

The client is not expecting you to prepare a presentation or deliverable for the call; they are looking to rapidly download industry knowledge via your many years of experience. You can expect that clients have done their own basic research, reviewed publicly available information, and perhaps heard a management presentation. They have come prepared with specific questions to confirm or clarify aspects of the business.

If the client is an investment manager, the call will likely be centered on a particular company. The client will want to know how the target company compares to its’ competitors, product and feature differentiation, pricing strategy, quality of management, etc. These types of calls will often resolve around your former employer or a major vendor that you worked with frequently, with emphasis on the key factors influencing your decisions.

Alternatively, if the client is a management consulting firm, the call will be centered on a particular issue or problem they have been tasked to solve. The client may be looking to develop a marketing strategy, solve chronic operational issues, or restructure an organization. These types of calls will often center your approach to an issue, your impressions of various products, factors that influence budget and purchase decisions, or to provide feedback on potential new products or solutions.

You should have an easy time answering the questions during the call- after all, the client wants to learn about an area via your experience. Even so, you may not have all the answers, or know figures off the top of your heads. You can always be honest and say you don’t know, and you should never make up answers. Clients often have multiple calls on the same subject and if it becomes apparent that you lied, you may be blacklisted.

It’s important to note that you will never be asked to share non-public or proprietary information during a client call, and Atheneum will have provided you with clear compliance guidelines prior to the call. In the rare event that you are asked to disclose non-public or proprietary information, you should decline to answer. Atheneum records their calls and offers transcription as a service to their clients, so you should know that exchanging this type of information is considered insider trading and could be met with considerable legal issues. One of the key responsibilities of expert networks is to ensure that improper information isn’t exchanged on a client call, with both parties bound by strict compliance standards.

What’s Next?

Atheneum offers payment via PayPal or ACH direct deposit, and you can expect payment within 45 days of the completion of the call.

Now that you’re a part of the network, you will periodically be contacted for participation in new projects, especially as you build a history of completing successful client calls.

Expert networks are a great way to capitalize on your experience. If you haven’t been contacted by an associate from Atheneum Partners, you can still register to be added to their network by visiting their website.

Magellan Research Group Review

Did you recently get a call, email, or LinkedIn message from an associate at Magellan Research Group with an offer for a paid consulting opportunity? Getting paid a high hourly rate for just an hour of your time sounds almost too good to be true – perhaps you’re wondering if Magellan is legitimate or a scam?  Here’s what you need to know about landing high-paying consulting projects with this fast growing expert network. 

Magellan Research Group Overview

Magellan Research Group Review

Magellan Research Group is one of a plethora of expert networks that have appeared in recent years to source experts for market research projects for institutional investors— usually private equity, hedge funds, and consulting firms. Magellan Research Group is legitimate – it’s certainly not a scam! – and has been operating for 10 years from its offices in New York, NY. Their core product is the 1-hour phone consultation, although they offer a variety of services, such as management checks, custom industry surveys, and industry conferences. The firm is small, and specializes in a personalized and streamlined expert experience by utilizing the most efficient process to cut down on paperwork and vetting time so experts can focus on client calls.

It’s not uncommon for an expert to be asked for a follow-up call, or follow-up project with the client, which would be compensated at the same rate. Usually this happens when a client expands on a project, adds a new angle, or just has an excellent conversation and wants to work more closely with you for their project.  A short phone call can sometimes turn into a lucrative consulting project via Magellan!

While one hour client calls are Magellan’s bread and butter, they can be a springboard to larger consulting opportunities.

What to expect

If an associate from Magellan Research Group has reached out to you, it’s likely that you fit the criteria for a project:

  1. A former employee of a company on which they are doing due diligence. The industry standard practice is to source experts who are at least 6 months removed from the target company to ensure that any information exchanged is immaterial and thus not insider trading.
  2. A current or former employee from a competitor in the same industry.
  3. An expert on a specific topic, market, or geography from a parallel industry. This could include a current or former customer of a product or type of product.

One of the most time-consuming aspects of working with expert networks in general is the amount of paperwork an expert has to complete to apply to work on a project after they have been identified as a potential fit. While other expert networks will frequently ask you to complete questionnaires detailing your relevant work experience, Magellan’s associates do the work for you by crafting your biography based on the vetting conversation. 

It’s important to give the associate the best high-level view of the topics they are asking about, as the client decides which expert to take a consult call with based on their biography. The vetting conversation is meant to be short, lasting no more than 15 minutes, but associates will stay on longer if you’re willing to provide more details, because those details could be the key to selling the call.

At the end of the vetting conversation, they will let you know if they believe you are a good fit for the project and if so, discuss your hourly consulting rate, your availability for a client call, and an overview of the compliance policy. Even if you aren’t a good fit for this particular project, you can still be added to their expert network database and may be tapped for future opportunities.

Magellan Research Group Consulting Rates

Magellan’s hourly consulting rates vary widely and the initial rate you are offered will be determined by a number of factors, including your job title and how many years you are removed from the industry or relevant job title that the client is researching.  The closer you are to the relevant job title, the more likely you are to be chosen for a call, and thus more likely to command a higher rate.  While you may have been called about a job you held three years ago, it may be unlikely that the client will take a call with you.

If you are below a director-level role, you will likely be offered $100-$200. If you are a director or above, you will be offered $200-$350. The associate is authorized to offer as high as $500, but anything higher has to be approved by a manager and could mean that your profile is not proposed to the client. Some experts really do get paid $1,000 or more per call through Magellan, but usually after they complete several calls and demonstrate that they are able to consistently offer clients the type of conversation that is extraordinarily useful and informative. 

The best way to maximize your consulting rate is to let the associate know that you have worked with expert networks in the past and that you already have a set rate. This lets the associate know you are experienced and know your worth. It also sets a benchmark for the negotiations, so you can limit the pay range to what makes the engagement worth your time. Additionally, if you have been contacted for many projects, your knowledge is probably in demand and you can renegotiate your rate with each project.

You should note that your hourly consulting rate will be pro-rated based on how long you are on the call, so it’s in your best interest to keep talking (er, providing valuable insights!) to keep the client on the phone. Like many expert networks, Magellan really pays by the minute, so you won’t receive your full hourly rate if the call is an under hour, though the good news is that you’ll earn extra on calls that exceed 60 minutes – nothing beats earning an extra $50 by keeping a good conversation going a little longer!

Acing Your Magellan Client Call

Okay, so you’ve done the vetting call, settled on a rate, and scheduled a call. What can you expect?

The vast majority of client calls are centered on a particular company, industry or product. The client will want to know the details of the industry— how it works, business models, verticals, customer types, competitive landscape, key growth drivers, challenges, and trends. 

The client is not expecting you to prepare for the call— they are looking to rapidly download knowledge of the industry via your many years of experience. Clients have generally done their own research, reviewed publicly available information, and heard a management presentation. What they are looking for is an insider who can confirm the research and give an informed opinion of the growth prospects and challenges of a particular industry, company, or product.

If you’re speaking with an investment manager, they are likely researching a particular company, they will want to know how it compares to its competitors, product and feature differentiation, quality of management, etc. These calls will often revolve around your former employer or a major vendor that you work with frequently, in which case they’ll want you to compare it to other similar products you vetted, with emphasis on the key factors influencing your decision.

Alternatively, the client may be a management consulting firm, which is tasked with developing a marketing strategy, solving operational problems, restructuring an organization, or other issues.  These calls will often dive into how you approach a particular issue or problem, your impressions of various products, how purchase and budget decisions are made, and to provide feedback on some potential new products or proposed solutions.

You’ll usually have an easy time answering most questions during a call – after all, the client wants to learn about an area that you’ve been working in for years.  Of course, you may not have the answer to everything, so don’t feel bad for saying that you don’t the answer to a certain question; the client will move on to the next question on their list and they aren’t paying top dollar for made-up answers!

It’s important to note that you’ll never be asked to share non-public or proprietary information, and Magellan will provide you with clear compliance guidelines several times before you connect with the client.   One of the key responsibilities of expert networks is to ensure that improper information isn’t shared with clients, who are bound by strict compliance standards.  It’s rare that you’ll be asked to share any non-public information, and you should decline to answer any questions you feel moves into this territory; clients won’t press you to share things that you shouldn’t.

What’s Next?

Immediately after the call, you should get an email thanking you for your participation. There will be a link to the invoice system, which will offer 3 different payment methods: ACH direct deposit, a physical mailed check, or a donation to a charity. Magellan processes all expert payments at the end of the month.

Now that you’re a part of the network, you will periodically be contacted for new projects, as associates are more likely to tap you for projects if you have a history of completing successful calls. 

Expert networks are a great way to capitalize on your experience. If you haven’t been contacted by a Magellan Research Group associate, you can still register to be added to their network by emailing [email protected] to get started.

How an Insider Trading Scandal Nearly Killed GLG (and the Entire Expert Network Industry)

It’s not surprising that investors are willing to pay $1,000 or more per hour to expert networks to gather insights on multi-million dollar investment decisions. This is the essence of investment research, and it’s what professional investors are paid to do. 

GLG insider trading

But any time that big money and high stakes are involved, the temptation to step into the grey area – or fully across the line – will be too much for some people to resist. And that’s a line that needs to be carefully navigated, since on the other side is insider trading, two words guaranteed to kill the mood and conversation at any party involving financial folks.

The official definition of insider trading is divulging information that is both non-public and material. In other words, information that would affect the stock price if it were publicly known.

As we’ll see, you’ll have ample opportunity to get acquainted with the ins-and-outs of what is legal and illegal before you reach the stage of having to part with any information under the auspices of an expert consulting agreement.

It’s important to stress that expert consulting is not a “minefield” when it comes to this sort of issue. Expert networks facilitate over a million client calls per year, and compliance breaches are extremely rare. 

Once you are familiar with the rules, it’s not difficult to follow them, and almost everyone involved does. Especially clients, who if anything have more on the line than the experts, as they are playing with their company’s reputation.

All that said, it’s also important to know the example of what happens when people ignore this advice. 

The following story (covered at length in this New Yorker article) not only ruined the lives and reputations of the expert and client involved, but also threatened the very existence of the expert consulting industry.

If you don’t want to end up as Pulitzer-fodder, read on!

SAC Insider Trading Scandal Ropes in GLG

Up to 2012, although there had been some rumblings in the press about insider trading cases tied to consultants at expert networks such as Primary Global, the expert consulting industry as a whole, and in particular its largest player, GLG.  Still, the nascent industry had largely avoided both scandal and scrutiny during its first decade of rapid growth.

Then came the court case that the press dubbed the greatest hedge fund scandal of all time, that still ranks highly among the exploits of Bernie Madoff and the fall of Galleon Group. And unfortunately, GLG was – if not at the center – very firmly in the vicinity when the proverbial hit the fan.

The historic debacle that unfolded in 2012 involved hedge fund trader Mathew Martoma (the client) and Dr. Sidney Gilman (the expert).

Martoma had been working as a portfolio manager at CR Intrinsic, which was affiliated with SAC Capital, a giant investment firm known for its stellar returns, whose boss, Steven A. Cohen, is the current owner of the Mets, and the inspiration behind the character of Bobby Alexrod in “Billions”.

The case hinged upon a relationship the trader Martoma built with the clinician Gilman over the course of more than 40 consultations relating to a new Alzheimer’s drug, then in the trial phase. The press reported that Gilman earned over $100k from the consultations, charging a rate of $1,000 per hour.

The drug in question had shown promise in its initial tests, drawing considerable interest from the investment community. Later, disappointing results led to a decline in the stock price of the firms involved. In other words, access to foreknowledge about the drug’s progress at each stage could definitely be classified as ‘material’.

The FBI accosted Martoma at his home several years later, and confronted him with information they had gathered about his past, which included evidence that he had illegally obtained proprietary information in his former dealings with Gilmen.

Gilman, who was involved in leading the drug trials, later testified that he had indeed divulged non-public data during the consulting sessions regarding trial outcomes while speaking with Martoma. 

Martoma, in turn, had allegedly used the information gathered from his calls with Gilman to make his firm $276 million in profits by speculating on shares of Elan and Wyeth, the firms behind the new drug.

The official SEC complaint made it clear that the expert network for whom Gilman was working (in this case GLG, whose name was not mentioned explicitly) was not at fault, and that both Gilman and Martoma had circumvented the network’s compliance procedures by, amongst other things, deliberately misrepresenting the discussion topics of their meetings.

Apart from anything else, Gilman had violated the terms of the confidentiality agreement, in which he stated that he would ‘share only information that is openly available’. GLG also provided email evidence in which they had explicitly told Gilman that Alzheimer trials were out-of-bounds for discussion with Martoma.

So how did it all go wrong? 

The calls were not recorded, and so we will never exactly know. All we have is the testimony of Gilman, who stated that it was difficult in retrospect to identify the precise moment in the relationship when the line was crossed. Using his words, at some point the answers just ‘slipped out’.

While Martoma and SAC both maintained that no illegal actions had taken place, Martoma was the eighth employee of SAC to be charged with Insider Trading. A federal investigation later concluded that the culture of SAC not only tolerated but encouraged the gathering of inside information. 

Upon conviction, Martoma’s assets were seized to settle a part of the multi-million dollar fine, and he began a nine-year sentence in federal prison, from which he was released earlier this year. Dr. Gilman resigned from his position at the University of Michigan, and his name was scrubbed from the institution’s records, including the hospital wing that had been named after him. 

Expert Network Compliance Expands in Response to Insider Trading Scandals

The resulting exposure clearly had the potential to inflict long-term harm on the reputation of expert networks, and GLG in particular. It may have seemed, briefly, that the future of the industry was in doubt. 

As it turned out, this was not the case. GLG turned a potentially bad situation around, not only by redoubling its compliance efforts to ensure that similar incidents would be preventable, but also by diversifying its focus, brand and client base beyond Wall Street and into Fortune 500 companies and major law firms. The expert industry as a whole has followed their lead by making rigorous compliance screening, training and monitoring a cornerstone of their product offerings.

The key takeaway for us is that compliance procedures are not – repeat, *not* – a meaningless formality! They are there to protect the reputations, livelihood, and integrity of everyone involved.

There are guidelines that each network will have in place that govern client-expert relationships. Here are some example guidelines from GLG’s compliance framework:

  • Employees may not engage in projects about their own company
  • Employees may not consult with known competitors of their company
  • Extensive or ongoing projects, which may ‘entail a deeper relationship with clients’ are subject to a special qualification process.

More generally, the rules and procedures that expert networks put in place typically include:

  • Who can and cannot participate in projects where conflicts of interest might be present
  • Topics that certain consultants may and may not address in consultations with certain clients
  • Training for both clients and consultants in all relevant protocols and guidelines.
  • Tools to assist compliance departments (e.g. call transcriptions and recordings) and provide documentation to protect those involved in case of a subsequent allegation.

You will likely be required to sign and annually re-affirm a document that states you have reviewed any agreements you are subject to and are permitted to take part in expert consulting, and that you will decline to take part in any project that would violate these agreements. 

The onus is partially therefore on you to pre-vet any engagements that may turn out to have conflicts of interest involved, although the network is obviously incentivized to help you identify them.

Annual, sector-specific training may well also be mandatory, whereby you will reacquaint yourself with what constitutes confidential information in your area of expertise. This will help to hone your spider senses for any edge cases you might come across.

Separately, the network will be liaising with the client and making it as easy as possible for their own compliance departments to pinpoint potential issues with candidates.

Above all, if you suspect that you are being asked to provide non-public, material information, you should always err on the side of safety: politely end the call, and notify the network. Many networks, including GLG, will incentivize you to act conservatively in this way by reimbursing you for the full-time slot.

Expert Network Compliance Training and Monitoring Helps Keep Everyone Out of Trouble

It is incredibly rare for compliance failures to occur – let alone criminal activity – in the ordinary course of expert network consulting.

You will likely never face a situation where you feel pressured to give confidential information. This is for the very simple reason that clients are subject to the same insider trading laws as everyone else, and crossing the line is not worth the risk. Most firms also make a heavy investment in compliance, which in turn place a heavy scrutiny on expert network calls to keep both the firm and its employees out of trouble.

As with all things, it comes down to a combination of knowledge and common sense. Learn what you can and can’t share on an expert network call. Take your training, trust your senses, and when in doubt, play it safe.