This is the first post in our “Compliance Chat” series. Each post will feature a lightly edited conversation with a compliance professional.
In April, I spoke with Paul DiVecchio about the impact of Covid-19 on the export compliance industry. Paul, the principal of the Boston-based DiVecchio & Associates, has provided export compliance consulting services to U.S. exporters for nearly 40 years.
Conversation with Paul Divecchio: April 24, 2020
How has the pandemic impacted your day-to-day consulting practice?
For the most part, there has not been a dramatic impact. My approach with my clients is several-fold. I do in-house training, compliance assessments, and if there is a particular project that requires dialogue with more than one person, then being present by the company’s side gets more accomplished. But other than those scenarios, my day-to-day routine (ad-hoc emails with clients, transactional situations, telephone conversations) is basically the same. When it comes to regulatory changes, I send regular updates to my clients by email or phone call anyway. So it is not a dramatic impact.
You had mentioned a while back that you prefer to have in-person workshops and seminars with clients, and that you are not a fan of webinars.
I absolutely get no satisfaction out of a webinar—none, zero. For me, it’s almost like you’re having to read something. I really rely on the interaction with my audience—to be able to look them in the eye, tell them to raise questions at any time […] I sense the pace when I’m doing a seminar or training. I bring in alot of anecdotal material […] It’s got to be that feeling of being a part of the group and, you don’t get that sense when it’s a webinar. I really avoid webinars if I can.
Of course, that presents a big challenge today…
Right, that ’s why I’m on the phone alot more with clients. But I think I’m pretty good at email correspondence in the sense that I put myself in my reader’s perspective so the reader can comprehend what I’m trying to communicate. Since I don’t have the luxury of meeting with them, I step it up a little more knowing that I need to convey that [message] in an email, knowing that I have the fallback option of a conference call. I have done one remote workshop with a new client for about 1.5 to 2 hours. I went to the BIS website and navigated the website with them on the screen […] it was difficult to do, but I felt I needed to get the client started.
So ideally, you would rather wait until all this is over before launching a comprehensive assessment or providing a full training workshop?
Absolutely. I did an on-site assessment prior to the sequestering, and I prepared a report, but we have not been able to get everyone together to discuss the report. I have discussed [it] with the General Counsel, but it wasn’t anything super urgent that required immediate attention.
These practical challenges seem particularly tough if you have a new client. How can you get to know a business if you can’t have an on-site meeting?
Ordinarily, if it’s a potential client in the New England area, I prefer to go to the company’s site. I offer them the opportunity to meet before they take me on as a consultant. Before submitting a proposal, I would promote the fact that I would really like to meet with you, be it for an hour or two hours. [To given an example of consulting remotely with a new client], I had one client that had a 1.5 million USD shipment detained by Customs out in L.A., and they had no idea what to do. I resolved the issue in a week and a half, and the shipment was able to go to China. It was all related to product classification, and customs couldn’t tell if a license was needed or not. I interfaced with the company and Commerce, and realized that Commerce and Customs were not on the same page.
Given all the concerns companies are facing with COVID, has export compliance been given a lower priority? It seems that, at least from a logistical standpoint, many companies simply would not be able to export items due to social distancing requirements, shutdowns, etc.
I’m not hearing anything from clients. It could be problematic from a logistical standpoint, but I’m not hearing it. There is the intertwining between supply chains and export regulations, but the world I’m dealing with is policy and procedures. If there is a transactional issue involving the forwarder or carrier, I’m not hearing about it. [For example], one client made a shipment to Hong Kong. It was on the Commerce List but eligible for an exception. Back in 2017 there was a regulation change in Hong Kong so that anything on the CCL under a validated license or exception cannot be shipped until the importer gets an import license from the Hong Kong government. This client had the export license and Hong Kong import license, but shipped an item under an exception without the Hong Kong import license. The mistake was made on the compliance side, not on the logistic side.
So in that sense it seems that most of the issues are pretty much the same…
As I say, I really am not dramatically impacted at all by the Coronavirus except that now there are government agencies that are slow in responding. There is a longer licensing time because of the disconnect between the communication and the agencies and the refocus on the virus as opposed to looking at policies. It goes back to, if you get a good network, I can go to my network personnel.
So relationships are crucial.
It’s key , it’s really key. If you don’t have them, then you can’t usually reach people.