International Ombudsmanship: Diplomatic Channels

5 March 2011

Prior to starting my “formal” OO practice a few years back I would practice, what I’ve also blogged here before, “ombudsmanship” in my consulting engagements; most often to preserve financial resources, but in the following case to recover lost revenue.  The term “ombudsmanship” simply means practicing alternative dispute resolution in a functional role or external capacity from “formal” ombuds structure, but between “groups”.  In the following case one of the first “ripples in the matrix” that was telling me there are “serious financial anomalies” building in 2005 was where a client had provided “inbound wholesale travel and event” services to a very prominent UK banking entity and they simply put off payment for almost 8 months.  By December of 2007, the “ripples” had manifest as we all know now, but by the beginning of 2006 we were successful for our client in recovering a 180 days (plus) past due balance on a $100,000 contract for services. Here’s how it works and you can use this method too.

This engagement started while we were on-site with a client in a meeting and our new “inbound wholesale travel” client popped her head in the door of the office to ask a question. I was introduced to her by my current client, with accolades on work completed, and she said, “great! Can you help me with a large contract that I”ve lost a significant amount of money on?”  I said we could look at it with her later and set a tentative time.  It only took about 30 minutes for her to present her “paper trail” of faxes and email, copies of key documents and bank drafts and so we took the “package” with us to begin.  Basically she had delivered the project for “Big UK Bank” with an up front deposit of half the contract so as to provide operating capital to deliver the project.  To add insult to injury after the bankers left the famous San Diego Resort there were unpaid tabs left over too, of which the resort management was holding “wholesale travel” services company responsible for, which was correct, as her company name was on every contract, not “Big UK Bank’s” name.  I sorted out the communications sequentially between both entities to get an idea of what the barriers or issues were for “final payment” and settlement on the account.  My approach was then to simply make another “collections” attempt on behalf of my client, which went on another few weeks without settlement or even acknowledgment that the last invoice was still outstanding and past the net terms of payment on the original contract.

At the time I was a member of several internationally oriented associations and used those connections and contacts to find a “name” inside the British Embassy in Washington DC.  Having been successful I made a single phone call, left a brief message with “references” and a call promptly came back the next day.  I quickly outlined the issue with the “diplomatic relations” officer. He requested a duplicate package of the key documents to the dispute and I “expressed” them to him with signatory receipt terms.

I waited and waited for what seemed like “forever”, anxious myself to hear some positive news or “reciprocal communication” to pass along to my client and nothing happened for approximately 3-4 weeks.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, my “wholesale travel” services client called me with an ecstatic tone saying she’d receive full payment for the balance of the contract and outstanding “bar tabs” left by her clients bank executives.  Apparently the British Embassy “officer” contacted “Big UK Bank” directly and “facilitated” payment so as to prevent further indignity.  I followed up with a formal letter of thanks for their efforts, the dispute is settled and full payment has been received.

If you are facing “cross border” disputes and time simply passes by without any resolution, you may also want to consider diplomatic channels by contacting the closest Consulate or Embassy linked to the offshore entity as a party to a dispute or complaint.  Keeping diplomatic connections via participation in “events” in the international community can prove, if needed, invaluable if dropping the sword on the Gordian Knot of complex or lax communications are not successful and all formal efforts in communicating have failed.  As a resource, EmbassyWorld.com provides a detailed list of Consulates and Embassies with direct linkage to the USA, but also all “country to country” diplomatic posts.  This single “tactic” can expand your practice and make you a true International Ombudsman outside of your domestic USA practice.

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