Today I fell into conversation with a long-time mining consultant on the topic of invoices and payment thereof by clients. He has been a specialist consultant to both the private sector mining industry and governments charged with closing mines abandoned by their former owners. Here is a summary of the story he told me.
“I have been working for this client for nearly twenty years. I have invoiced them about six times a year for these twenty years. Never a problem. They have always paid the bills soon enough. Now just recently, I got a bunch of telephone calls and bullying enquiries from the client’s new account manager.
She asked: ‘Your hours seem extreme. I see you charge twenty dollars over the going rate for the hotel. I cannot approve the invoice until I get a full explanation of all this.’
I answered her: ‘This is the first time in twenty years that anybody has questioned my bill.’
It took an incredible amount of time to persuade her my charges were legitimate.
Damn me! If I wanted $20 extra (not earned) I could have added a few minutes to my hours.”
We have recently experienced a similar incident. We have worked for the client for over fifteen years. From personal knowledge I know we have sent over the past seven years up to four invoices a month for different projects to them, and not once has there been an issue.
Yet just recently a new engineer from one of those countries where corruption is the norm received an invoice from me. It has taken two months, innumerable emails, and many phone calls to satisfy him. I have had to justify a few hours of reading and deep deliberation. I have had to justify a few hours help from a colleague on an issue I know little of. I have had to justify plane trips without which I could not have gotten to site.
The bill is still not paid. We are still working with him and his accounts manager to get approval.
I testify this is an aberration. I did nothing I have not done over more than forty years of consulting. I falsified nothing. I did not overcharge—to the contrary I undercharged — for how much can research, thinking, deliberation, and talking to other experts justify a time-sheet entry?
I have seriously considered telling this young engineer (my client) to fuck off and to refuse to do any more work for him. I do not need this suspicion and this aggravation. We completed the task well under budget and, I know, the work product is brilliant. If this is how he trust my billing, then how can I have any confidence in his trust of my technical work? Better to focus one’s activities for clients who trust one and have the ability to move forward with my recommendations and payment of my invoices.
I understand that the systems imposed by accountants on young engineers is getting ever more demanding. I understand that the system is designed to catch the average invoice that is likely to overcharge or simply be false. I understand the need for full information from the consultant before the mining client pays the bill.
As a taxpayer I suspect it is good that government departments make sure they get value for money from their consultants. But in spite of all this understanding, I cannot, as an individual who knows that I and the company I work for is honest, but be offended. Let these ignorant, uninformed, inexperienced, and prejudiced clients get other consultants if they have not the ability to trust and judge the truth of an invoice.
I recognize this is all very controversial. Let us have your experiences and opinions.