UNI Strategic in the news for SCAMMING SPEAKERS
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Sep 11, 2010
Events organiser under fire over late payments
Speakers complain online; firm says fees withheld due to poor showing but all will be paid
By Liew Hanqing & Carolyn Quek
A GROUP of foreign corporate speakers is crying foul over a Singapore company that they claim did not pay them for their services on time as promised.
A few have even gone as far as hiring debt collectors to obtain tardy payments, after coordinating strategies with others who posted their complaints on blogs, websites and online forums.
The company, UNI Strategic, an organiser of corporate events, told The Straits Times that it had no choice but to withhold payment from certain speakers because of what it considered poor performance, which it said was detrimental to its reputation. It later said, however, that its speakers would all be paid eventually.
At least 20 overseas professionals engaged by it to speak at a number of conferences posted complaints on various websites after allegedly not being paid according to their contracts' timelines, which range between 30 and 60 days after an event.
Speakers contacted said their appearance fees typically ranged from $4, 000 to $8, 000 each. One of them, Mr Paul Cherry, 48, president of a company providing sales training and leadership development, detailed on his website the difficulties he had in getting paid his fees of US$4, 000 (S$5, 370) after giving a talk on strategic sales leadership here in 2008.
He has since been contacted by other speakers with similar experiences. His online post received more than 50 comments, mostly from other speakers.
Mr Cherry, an American, said: 'UNI Strategic was great to work with up until the programme. As soon as I left Singapore, very few of my e-mail requests for payment were responded to.'
He was eventually paid, three months late, after threatening to go to the Singapore and the United States authorities for redress.
Another speaker, Mr Peter van Veen, 40, from boutique strategy consulting firm De Ruijter Strategy in London, said he had difficulty getting paid US$3, 000 for a course he ran in Singapore last November.
He said the course had been well received by its 25 participants, who gave it an average rating of 7.84 out of 10 on feedback forms.
'UNI Strategic has never disputed the amount in question. They just don't respond to e-mail and if we do speak to someone, they apologise and tell us they will look into it, never to be heard from again, ' he said.
UNI Strategic paid Mr van Veen on Monday - about 10 months after the event.
Another US-based speaker, who declined to be named, said he had to engage a debt collection agency to obtain his fees of US$6, 500. He paid the agency about a quarter of what he was owed.
UNI Strategic was also sued twice over the past year - by Amara Hotel and Air Services International - for $4, 066 and $12, 332 respectively. It later paid up the amounts and the cases did not go to court.
Mr Roger Tie, chief executive of UNI Strategic, said that while the company paid most of its speakers on time, it had no choice but to withhold payment from those who he claimed had not delivered what they promised.
He said the company, formed nine years ago, encounters 'one or two' speakers a month - out of about 200 a year - who deliver sub-standard programmes that receive poor ratings from participants.
Its benchmark: fewer than half of participants giving speakers an 'acceptable' rating - or 5/10.
Asked if speakers' contracts contained clauses indicating payment would be withheld if they performed poorly, Mr Tie said there were no such clauses, but added that the speakers would be offered the chance to make good - for example, by providing proper course materials later.
'In some cases, our clients complain and demand refunds. Even though the fees are non-refundable, we sometimes have to bite the bullet and give refunds as a form of goodwill, ' he said.
Every year, the company writes off an average of $100, 000 in bad debt, due to non-paying clients or refunds issued to clients who were not happy with the programmes, said Mr Tie. The most common complaints were that speakers' course materials were different from what was agreed on, and that course content was irrelevant or inadequate.
Mr Tie later said the company eventually 'always paid' its speakers, whether or not they met expectations.
It costs each participant between $2, 500 and $3, 500 to attend a programme.
At least one speaker, however, has had a good experience with UNI Strategic.
Mr Monty Sacher, 52, from Melbourne, Australia, who has conducted workshops for the company, said: 'I've not had a payment problem with them.'
Other industry players said it was not standard practice to withhold payment from invited speakers.
Ms May Koh, a training and resource manager with Avantus Training, a company that organises training programmes, said her company usually paid its speakers whether or not they met expectations.
'It's not possible to withhold the entire amount owed - after all, the speaker has already rendered a service, ' she said.
Ms Stacey Yeong, UNI Strategic's conference director, said the company sources its speakers online. Before hiring one, it would typically request a copy of the prospective speaker's resume.
'If they fit the events we are organising, we will engage them, ' she said.