It was almost 2.5 years we had been working with this company operating in Mumbai. When we started working with them, they were not availing an indirect tax (service tax) benefit that could have saved them millions of rupees. The Client was extremely elated to know about this benefit and we signed the contract.
The assignment had started 2.5 years back and a team of 3-4 people was deployed to complete it. My Mumbai partner and me were supervising the assignment and everything was going on smooth. After almost 6 months of hard work we were able to identify the first tranche of cash benefit. After the Client had utilized the benefit, we raised our first set of fee invoice. Post issuance of the fee invoice, we continued with the assignment, waiting for the payment to get released.
Almost 2 months went by and the Client did not pay us. But we continued with our work hoping we would get paid eventually. The assignment continued with the team completely involved to finish the next phase of work. We were discussing with the Client and every time we used to hear the same statement – “Our Head Office is reviewing the benefit and they shall release the payment shortly”. It was quite a practical statement, as we all know that Indian subsidiaries are a lot of times at the mercy of their overseas parent entity. Hoping that the HO would review our work shortly, we continued with the assignment.
The next phase of work got completed and it was roughly 9-10 months that we had been working, still without any payment. Since I head the Indirect Tax practice at our firm International Business Advisors (www.ibadvisors.co) and this being a service tax (CENVAT) assignment, I was getting anxious. My Mumbai partner was more anxious because he was the relationship Partner for this Client and both of us were not able to figure out if the Client was actually in a mood to pay. Since it was high paying assignment for us, the obvious thing was to believe that they will surely pay us.
The Client by now had legally utilized the benefit of Rs. 2 crores and in addition we had identified almost 1.5 crores more to be further used by them. This was a big amount for any company and for that kind of benefit made available to someone who wasn’t aware of it, we were actually proud of our work.
But slowly and gradually we smelled something foul. The Client had not paid us for almost a year and every time they had some reason or the other to delay our payment. There was a time when the Client once said that they were not sure whether the benefit they got was legally available to them and what if they were later harassed by the Revenue officers for the benefit availed. In response to it, we had given them a detailed legal opinion on why the benefit was legally available to them and it was also backed up by an opinion from an eminent third party law firm.
The other good thing that happened during this time was that the Service Tax department officers audited the Client’s books and everything was found in order. It was that time when we got slightly aggressive on our outstanding fee that resulted in a plethora of discussions and emails for almost 6 months.
Now, we were at a situation where it was clear that the Client wasn’t really in a mood to pay us. Perhaps, they never imagined that they could actually get so much benefit and since our fee was substantial they were playing hide and seek to avoid making the payment. And this attitude was very strange, something you don’t actually find with non-Indian companies. In fact, even with the Indian companies I have never experienced such a behaviour where someone would sign an engagement letter, receive the complete service and then refuse the payment.
What amused us was the fact that we were also providing this Client monthly accounting and tax compliance services and were getting paid for that on a regular basis. It was only related to this particular assignment, where the fee amount was substantial, they just avoided. But being a true professional service firm, we had never stopped our work and continued with the same spirit.
After almost 2 years of the completion of work we were still in discussions, and eventually all the partners decided enough is enough and we need to take a stand. Even for the monthly accounting work, the Client had promised an annual increment to our monthly accounting fee that they later refused (despite signing the engagement letter) and that was the time we thought it was too much.
It was June 2015 when we decided to send a stern warning for our payment. We sent an email mentioning we would like to get paid immediately; else we might stop our services with immediate effect. Hoping we would now hear something positive from them, we waited. But the story continued with more unnecessary arguments and false promises.
Ultimately, at the end of June we decided to stop working for them with immediate effect. We pulled out our team from their office and told them very categorically that no more work unless we get paid. The Client obviously got furious because they probably weren’t thinking we would take this step. There were email exchanges between us for few days and then there was a long silence until November 2015.
It was a highly desperate measure from us because we were extremely unhappy with the Client’s behaviour. How can someone think of getting a service that legally benefitted them immensely, without making any payment for it. This was just not professional.
Since the exit of our team was sudden we had not handed over our work to their team. This was a desperate measure for receiving our rightful payment. We were ready to fight a legal battle with them, should the need arise.
Patience as they say is one of the best virtues to have and typically a possession of high performing leaders and companies. As the saying goes:
“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it”
And I think that is exactly we did. We kept the patience and relentlessly persevered with our work without dithering away. There were times when we used to really get impatient with the Client’s behaviour and sometime amongst the Partners there were strong discussions to continue or not. The decision to stop the work was made in June 2015 but there were moments when we had thought about that even 6 months back.
As I write this article, I am happy to share that recently we have successfully handed over our work to the Client and happier to share that the Client has fully settled our outstanding dues. The handing was extremely smooth and it was evident that the Client did realize we had done a good job. A nice activity to end the year 2015.
The CEO after the handing over called us thanking for whatever we have done for them and apologised for his behaviour. He said it was not intentional but purely circumstantial, something that he also couldn't do much about. He mentioned professionally we still remain good friends, hoping to cross each other’s paths in the future.
It was such a relieving statement to hear from the CEO who at one point of time was trying to find ways not to pay for our services. I think the only reason all this ended well was because we kept PATIENCE.
Don’t you agree there are moments in life when we feel nothing is going as per our wish. There are moments when we feel people who were with us have drifted away. There are moments when despite working hard you did not achieve success. There are moments when you study very hard and don’t pass in exams and you feel that your friend who did not study as hard as you passed. There are moments when you want to work on something very close to your heart but you are either not getting enough time or not getting the right opportunity. There are times when you want to propose to someone you really like but not getting reciprocity from him/her. Moments when you wanted to become an artist but your parents forced you to do CA or MBA.
These are the very moments in life that test your patience. These are the moments when you get opportunity to do self-realization and re-work on your goals. These are the moments when you realize that your way of making things work is probably not right and needs a change and once you change it, you change your life.
Over a period of time I have also grown more patient in my behavior towards my family, friends and clients. And I believe I have been able to develop more patience only because I know that:
- In our life there would be hailstorm on our crops;
- There would be moments of roughness, hard luck and tough opponents;
- Friends might turn foes;
- There would be undesired casualties; and
- Dreams wouldn’t be easy to get fulfilled.
But what I believe is if I have dreams and goals written in front of me in my Journal (http://nimishgoel.com/write-journal-or-diary-daily-why-how/) and if I continue with my good habits such as using the power of affirmations, getting up at 5AM (Why I joined the 5AM Club) and believing in the power of subconscious mind, I would slowly but eventually meet my goals. But by the time I achieve them, I need to be patient...
Hope this article inspires you and makes you a mentally a tougher person. With strength will come patience and with patience will come perseverance.
Stay blessed and have a Very Happy New Year 2016…
Authored by Nimish Goel (www.nimishgoel.com), a qualified chartered accountant who’s passion is to coach young chartered accountants and aspiring students achieve the best in their life. Nimish used to work with EY and PwC in India and has also worked with KPMG in Europe. He now runs his own consulting company and runs a blog www.nimishgoel.com. He can be reached for any queries and issues on his blog.