Show Me The Money — Bureaucracy & International Clients
Over the past fifteen years, I have received payments from clients in well over forty countries for urbanism projects and payment for my keynotes at conferences and events. Normally, it simply involves me sending an invoice and receiving a wire transfer. Boom.
I have, however, identified a few countries that are above and beyond when it comes to nightmarish bureaucracy.
The worst client country is: France. An absolute gold medal. It is mindboggling, every time, to regard their archaic, bureaucratic process in this new century.
I first encountered it about eight years ago, when a simple payment of €1000 involved a client city sending me a physical letter/contract to sign and return. When you live in one of the world’s most digital nations, this was bizarre even back then.
I am currently battling to receive payment from two French cities and it’s still bizarre. I have received long, complicated contracts written only in French, with no effort to at the least translate a summary into English. These documents were Word documents — I haven’t used Word for more than a decade. When I ask for a pdf that I can edit in Adobe and add a graphic of my signature, the request is considered strange and difficult.
I pushback as much as I can and try to highlight the differences between how I normally work with clients. I know it’s important to compromise when working across borders, but when one system is so hopelessly behind, it shouldn’t be my problem to go backwards. They should make an effort to advance.
To be fair, another client city recently had a streamlined process, so it IS possible for a French city to modernise.
When I emailed one of the cities today to ask where the payment was — after more than a month of not hearing anything, I was told that payment would be made in 45 days… from 1 August. Not 26 June, which was the date on the invoice. The reason? I had to be put on their supplier list. No explanation about why I wasn’t informed of this or why 1 August was suddenly the start date for this process.
I have been put onto supplier lists for many other cities in a number of countries and it is not a complicated process and certainly doesn’t involve seventy-five days before I get paid.
Another client city is coming up to the payment process and I’m already steeling myself for the battle. Then I received a request for my “DUNS number” from a French city. I had no idea what THAT was, since in Europe we have standard VAT numbers/identifiers. I googled DUNS number and it is some bizarre thing that doesn’t make any sense so I won’t bother getting one.
It is bizarre that one of Europe’s largest countries is so burdened with 19th century bureaucracy . It is also so frustrating to have to jump through hoops in order to get paid, when almost everyone else I’ve worked with just wire transfers the funds on time.
The silver medal goes to Brazil. I did a lot of work there in a period of a few years a while back. There are complicated rules about cities hiring foreign companies/consultants and adding them to their supplier lists, so it involved a middleman solution where an NGO was “hired” by the city and then them paying my company.
A complicated solution, but the only way to go. At least the actual wire transfer, when we got to that point, was quick. Well, until the end of it, when the head of the NGO made off with a large amount of our money.
There are also challenges in coming from a Nordic work-culture and collaborating with other cultures and the Brazilian experiences were by far the most complicated, but this article is simply about getting paid for international jobs.
In third place — the bronze medal — is the USA. I discovered years ago that wire transfers are an alien concept for many of the people, cities and organisations I’ve worked with. For years, clients ask “can we send a check?”.
This ancient form of payment has been obsolete in Denmark for many, many years. They simply don’t exist. Most people under thirty have never seen one or even heard about the concept. Ask a Danish grandparent if you want to know what it was. I have learned that a wire transfer is a long-winded process for American clients and involves long conversations with their banks. And American banks are outside the loop of standard international practices, as well.
Not my problem. It’s up to them to figure it out. I just wire transferred money to Ukraine from my phone. It took three minutes. IBAN and Swift numbers are the standard for most of the planet for a reason.
Other countries have a taxing bureaucratic system as well, but these three are, in my experience, the most frustrating.
Just give me my 21st century money, ffs.