This is a guest opinion article by Rachel MacLynn, the founder of Vida Consultancy.
With the dating industry having grown exponentially in recent years, and in light of the horrendous case of Jason Lawrance, who was recently found guilty of raping and assaulting seven women after meeting them on internet dating site Match.com, never has it been more urgent for an industry to be regulated.
Research company Mintel predict that the online dating market in the UK alone will expand from £165m to £225m by 2019, and this will be driven in part by the number of single people in the UK growing, and the continued increase of consumers using the internet to meet people. It is imperative that we start protecting people using both offline and online dating services, and it couldn’t come soon enough.
In my opinion, matchmaking and introduction agencies provide the safest and most effective way to meet people, however, there is still a need to provide training and an overall greater level of professionalism in the industry. The industry should be taking the view of prevention rather than cure, taking urgent steps to protect consumers before any further disasters take place.
But how do we make this happen? Regulation is key. At the moment there are a number of organisations in existence; some have been around for years and others are new, but all are very focussed on improving the industry. The online and offline worlds are still largely considered as separate entities under the umbrella of the “dating industry”. But given that we are all in the business of helping people find love, whether through the powers of technology and sophisticated algorithms (online) versus highly personalised, psychology-led matchmaking services (offline), we are all responsible for protecting our consumers from any form of attack or abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional.
As a starting point, there needs to be more dialogue between all relevant industry associations. I sit on the Board of Advisors for the Matchmaking Institute (MMI), a global authority whose aim is to encourage professionalism in the matchmaking industry. The MMI trains aspiring matchmakers and drills home the need to work ethically and consider the well-being of clients at all times. Training discusses the pros and cons of background checking.
From my own professional experience, I have found that building profiles about members through a face to face interview with a matchmaker is a natural deterrent for people with ill-intentions. At Vida Consultancy, we check ID and proof of address of our clients and also encourage referrals, leading to a strong sense of community amongst our members and most people being connected in a personal or professional capacity to at least someone else we know. We take feedback from both sides after a date. Any cause for complaint or concern is dealt with immediately and with human judgement. Most credible matchmaking agencies take the same zero tolerance stance, so anyone viewed as acting in an offensive manner is struck off the membership list once the reported issue has been reviewed and investigated.
The Association of British Introduction Agencies (ABIA) is a long standing authority in the UK, offering a list of approved member agencies. Its equivalent in the US is the Matchmakers Alliance, which welcome agencies located anywhere in the world.
The Online Dating Association (ODA) is working closely with The National Crime Agency (NCA) to look at what more can be done to make the industry safer.
The UK Dating Awards and iDate have recognised the need to bring online and offline business owners under one roof, a move that is welcomed by the industry as a whole and has allowed matchmakers and website/app entrepreneurs to engage to an extent never done before.
I for one, as the owner of a matchmaking agency, and I am sure I echo the voices of many of my matchmaker peers, am keen to engage in dialogue with all industry authorities to really drive the regulation of the entire industry forward.
I am excited about where the industry is going and think the next five years will see some innovative measures being introduced to protect consumers, as well as the businesses themselves, from damaging individuals.
By Rachel MacLynn
Rachel MacLynn is a chartered psychologist turned professional matchmaker, who founded the Vida Consultancy just five years ago. Today, she and her all-female management team run a global business with over 5,000 high net worth members.
Rachel’s company, which is headquartered in London’s prestigious Mayfair, and has consultants around the world, has recently garnered nominations for the most coveted industry awards including three nominations in the recent UK Dating Awards and a further nomination in the iDate Awards which took place in Miami in January.
A regular industry speaker, she was appointed to the Board of Matchmaking Institute in 2014, and is now providing training for professional matchmakers.