How to manage overseas accountants and other international suppliers
A case study in how to resolve issues with an overseas accountant and other international suppliers.
Our client had several major issues with a new overseas finance supplier. The issues were inaccurate monthly reporting by the country supplier, failure to complete an implementation task correctly and generally slow response times for queries. The client had a small staff presence in the country and no finance staff there, so the country supplier was managed remotely by the client’s Regional HQ team.
The country supplier was relatively new and came to the client as part of a region-wide deal. The supplier had performed well in all other countries except this one. This country supplier was the only one which had not completed its implementation and had significant performance issues. The client’s Regional HQ team had a good track record of managing suppliers across the region. However the client’s team was now exasperated with this country supplier’s performance and their relationship had broken down. The client’s team had escalated this to the supplier’s management team and the global account manager without significant success.
In our analysis of the situation, we established that the significant issues mentioned by the client did indeed occur. We obtained evidence that the supplier was not delivering the required deliverables in the contracted timeframe. For example, the client provided specific examples of slow responses by the supplier. We checked these response times against the Contract Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the supplier, and we proved beyond doubt that the supplier was breaking the terms of their SLA.
We agreed a Plan A and a Plan B for the client. In Plan A we would re-escalate the issues to the country supplier and the global account manager. If Plan A did not work in short order, in Plan B we would convene a regular series of meetings with the client and all parties from the supplier to work through the issues in detail and resolve them. This approach offered a potential quick and easy solution for our client, while giving them the comfort that we would fix the problems no matter what. Per Plan A we re-escalated the issues with all the supplier stakeholders including the country partner, country management team and the global account manager. This time however we provided the specific evidence which proved that the issues were genuine and recurring. The global account manager found our evidence very helpful, as it gave them more internal leverage to pressure the country supplier to improve their performance. As a result the supplier acknowledged the issues and resolved to fix them asap. However it soon became clear that the issues continued to recur.
We implemented Plan B as soon as timelines for improvements were not met. We demonstrated to the supplier with clear evidence that they had missed the agreed timelines to fix issues. The supplier agreed to co-operate fully with the regular meetings and Plan B proved to be the ideal solution to the issues. Why was this?
Building a relationship
We used the regular meetings to rebuild the relationship and trust between both parties. We set the scene by agreeing the terms of reference for the discussion up-front. We agreed to focus on positive, solution-oriented discussions. We agreed hard dates and responsibility for action points on both sides. We agreed to talk about facts and to listen to each other.
The first benefit of the regular meetings was to improve response times. The country supplier team committed to attending the meetings and providing deadlines for their actions. All plans were recorded and any timeline misses were discussed at the following meeting. This provided a strong incentive for all parties to be responsive.
Inaccurate monthly reporting
The next benefit was improved monthly reporting. Our client had bespoke reporting requirements which required customization in the supplier’s systems. As the client had negotiated the contract at a regional level, the country supplier’s team had not fully understood the customization which was required. We were able to explain these requirements in detail during the meetings so that the supplier could configure the new report with confidence. We then set dates for building and testing the reports. The end result was satisfactory monthly reporting which met the client’s needs.
Completing the implementation task
Due to local regulations, this country required a specific cut-over report at implementation which our client had not seen anywhere else. It soon became evident during our discussions that it would be much more difficult to generate this report than anybody had assumed. The report required a combination of client data from finance and other departments. It then required careful manipulation into the supplier’s systems. In addition, the client did not always have the right data in their systems, so they had to manually prepare some of the data.
We carefully guided the client and supplier through the steps needed to get a solution. They included understanding the data required for the report, collecting and validating the data, preparing the report and testing. We assigned each of these steps as appropriate either to the client’s team or the supplier, and we monitored the progress against the plan. It took a while and there were several bumps in the road but we got there. We all celebrated when the client finally confirmed that the cut-over report was correct.
Outcome and Impact
Our actions made a real difference in this case. Before we were involved, there were several unmet requirements which led to inaccurate and incomplete reporting for the client. Worse still, there was a breakdown in the relationship and there was no effective communication, so there was little prospect of the situation improving anytime soon.
As a result of our involvement, the client has formed a good relationship with the country supplier and now all the client’s needs are met every month. This has improved the client’s financial reporting and it has made the monthly reporting much more efficient. It has also significantly reduced stress for the client’s Regional HQ staff, as they now know they have a responsive country supplier who will address any issues they have in future in this remote location.
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