Nowadays more than ever we are willing to leave the comfort zone and seek opportunities abroad. And while the reasons behind the international move may be numerous, the moving process usually goes pretty much the same. This time we asked a few questions president Terry Head about the International Association of Movers’ mission and the moving industry.
What should you take into consideration when moving internationally, how to find a reputable a mover? Find out what IAM’s president Mr Terry Head shares.
M. Irwin: Tell us more about the IAM’s mission. 2,000 companies from more than 170 countries, how did it all begin?
Terry Head: The mission of IAM is to protect the public interest and further the best interests of all participants involved in the household goods transportation and storage industry by providing leadership, annual meetings, industry and consumer educational opportunities, and advice including that relating to legislative and regulatory matters. Association programs and services are designed to promote and protect the interests of all members and the public.
The International Association of Movers began as the Household Goods Forwarders Association of America (HHGFAA), which was formally incorporated on November 26, 1962, with 18 charter members. The early members were called Active members.
A primary motivation to establish HHGFAA was the need for carriers moving household goods for the U.S. government and military to have an advocate in Washington, DC. Attorney Alan F. Wohlstetter, who became the Association’s General Counsel, recalls that a growing number of business owners were aware of his legal work in handling transportation issues and knew he could properly present issues and cases on their behalf. Eventually it became clear that his efforts were benefiting an entire industry, and Mr. Wohlstetter decided to devote legal time to organizing a formal trade association.
Within a year HHGFAA had added a second membership category, then called Associate members, for those other types of businesses involved in moving household goods in the commercial arena. This membership category attracted international companies as well as those based in the U.S. Associate (now called “Core”) members became the fastest growing segment of membership; and now constitute over 80 percent of IAM’s more than 2,000 members. Of that group more than two-thirds are international members.
I became president in 1997. The organization went through rapid membership growth since then, the Association’s name was changed to International Association of Movers in 2009, the young professionals group (IAM-YP) was created, and numerous programs and services that inform, educate, and provide protections for IAM’s members were started. IAM went through the post-9/11 scrutiny of cargo security measures and managed safeguarding of the international supply chain. We are closely involved in advocacy on behalf of IAM members, leveraging the Association’s long-term and effective relationships with stakeholders to represent the interests of IAM members and assist them in interpreting government regulations and requirements.
M. Irwin: What are your membership requirements? What does it take to become an IAM member?
Terry Head: IAM members are directly engaged in the movement of household goods, or in the business of providing goods or services to the moving industry. A prospective member must complete an application form and provide sponsorship letters from two current IAM members. IAM also requires a copy of the prospective member’s business license, a government-issued photo identification for each company principal, and the company’s agreement to abide by the Association’s by-laws and code of ethics. Failure to adhere to those tenets is grounds for removal from IAM through procedures in place for termination.
IAM prospective members then enter a 30-day review period during which current IAM members have an opportunity to comment on the prospective member.
M. Irwin: Over 50 years of hard work, what were the greatest challenges in the history of the IAM?
Terry Head: Successfully developing strong relationships with government entities that historically have been our clients and sometimes our adversaries, but now frequently seek out IAM’s opinions and expertise.
- Post-9/11 – IAM served as the voice of the moving industry and its customer base in the global effort of entities diligently working to secure their borders and supply chains, not only in the USA but other countries as well. IAM served both as a resource and a coordinating entity with other transportation related trade associations being impacted by tighter security measures.
- The US economic downturn of 2008, its reverberations in economies worldwide, and the devastating impact on businesses, especially small ones. The good news is that more than 88 percent of IAM members surveyed last fall described their businesses as being successful in 2012.
- The uptick in “rogue operators” unlicensed or scam movers whose business model is to dupe unwitting customers by providing a low-ball price on a move, then hold the customer’s belongings hostage until more money is paid. Unfortunately, the growth of the Internet is fostering a proliferation of these types of rouges in both the US and overseas markets.
M. Irwin: When it comes to regulations, which are the most regulated moving industry markets?
Terry Head: This is a tough question because countries vary in how they regulate our industry. In some cases, self-certification is used with the national industry trade association acting as the regulating authority. We see this in some European countries; while in the United States, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have regulatory authority over the international and domestic transport of household goods, respectively, in the US.
From initial research, it appears that the US is more heavily regulated, but this requires more in-depth study.
Regarding regulation in other countries, in some cases, there is no governmental structure overseeing the industry. For instance, the industry’s trade association in that country takes responsibility for vetting, training, and inspecting companies who are members. I believe this to be the case in the United Kingdom where the British Association of Removers (BAR) has robust programs designed to both certify their members as well as provide opportunities for relief for consumers. From what I can discern, the British Government is only involved in the registration of the company. However, as I have mentioned, we are just starting to ramp up our attention to this specific issue ourselves and really cannot provide any definitive answers regarding the regulatory nature of other countries.
M. Irwin: In your opinion, what should be improved in the regulation and/or in the business practice as a whole?
Terry Head: Regulation is a tough balance between insuring that qualified companies, regardless of their size or scope, can compete on a level playing field but at the same time managing to remain profitable under the mandated liability and bonding requirements, as well as the administrative and compliance burdens than come with government regulations.
Our stance is that rogue and scam operators will simply choose to remain unregulated if the requirements become too onerous. When that happens, all of the costs of regulation will fall on those companies who choose to operate lawfully and ethically. Rather than discuss whether there is a need for more regulation or less, IAM emphasizes that there needs to be an increased focus on the enforcement of existing regulations, greater outreach to and education for unsuspecting consumers, and more creative solutions that leverage technology against the rogues and for the benefit of customers. For instance, Senator Jay Rockefeller (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation) addressed Silicon Valley Executives last fall about how internet search engine algorithms are manipulated by rogues in order to get in front of online customers at a greater rate than normal companies. There has been no real movement on this since the letter was sent but it at least attempts to confront the problem where it takes root, which is on the internet.
Through our partnerships with the FMC and the FMCSA, we believe they are handicapped by a lack of resources but think that they are moving in the right direction by building bridges with one another, states’ attorneys general offices, and industry trade associations to help them leverage each other’s resources to collectively address the problems that affect the American moving marketplace. The FMCSA, in particular, are reaching out to state law enforcement to emphasize that hostage load situations are criminal acts rather than civil issues. Taken together, there is a real consciousness beginning to take hold where stakeholders (like IAM and MyMovingReviews) are banding together to protect consumers from deceptive and illegal practices.
M. Irwin: What poses to be an ample issue in the international moves for consumers, and for the international movers/freight forwarders?
Terry Head: For consumer moving overseas and international movers alike, the tightening restrictions of customs organizations throughout the world will continue to pose issues. Since September 11, 2001, customs organizations like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have expanded their mission so that their first“priority is to keep terrorists and their weapons of mass destruction out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing the border and facilitating lawful international trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations, including immigration and drug laws.”
Since household goods are considered high-risk cargo by CBP, it is more likely that consumers shipping household goods will have their shipment physically examined by customs. Any time a shipment is physically examined the chance for damages increases while the delay in clearance may result in additional charges such as demurrage and port storage, as well as the examination fee. From the perspective of international movers, a physical examination can drastically reduce the satisfaction of their customer and result in lost or repeat business – despite the fact that such examinations are beyond the movers’ control.
Before moving internationally, it is recommended that consumers consult the customs regulations of their destination country to ensure that they fully comply. A good international mover will walk their client through the “DOs” and “DON’Ts” for their destination. IAM’s Shippers Guides provide useful customs information for more than 120 countries throughout the world.
M. Irwin: And as it concerns safety, what are you recommendations for consumers?
Terry Head: IAM is very focused on consumer protections and how we can play a role in supporting governmental efforts. We meet regularly with the United States Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), who have regulatory authority over the international and domestic transport of household goods in the US, respectively. With the closer working relationship between the FMC and FMCSA and the establishment of a Household Goods Working Group this past year, IAM is cautiously optimistic that the US government is starting to leverage their authority and status on behalf of US consumers.
Nevertheless, the environment for today’s consumer of moving services remains risky with “rogue operators” who are experts at utilizing the internet to prey on unsuspecting customers. We recommend that consumers obtain multiple quotes for their impending move and do their due diligence before committing to a particular company. Customers should always check with the FMC or the FMCSA to make sure that a company’s licenses are up to date and whether any complaints have been registered against them. In addition, we encourage consumers to confirm that a company is indeed a member of any association with which they advertise affiliation. For IAM, this can be done by searching our online directory.
M. Irwin: What’s on the IAM’s today’s agenda? What are your future plans?
Terry Head: As always, we are focused on how we can further the interests of our members, as well as protect the public’s interest. One of our members’ primary interests is to enhance the image and reputation of the industry and we intend to lead on this issue. Over the past decade, IAM has implemented several features that will ultimately lead to a stronger Association and, as a result, a stronger industry.
We have increased our tracking and oversight of companies and members who receive consumer complaints. While we have no authority to intervene with members on behalf of a client, these consumer complaints have played a role in member expulsions. IAM’s Code of Ethics and its corresponding enforcement procedures provides the Association with an institutional framework to adjudicate on ethics issues. While a customer will never see this, IAM provides financial protection measures for its members so that payment issues between members are less likely to involve a customer’s shipment.
We are also aggressively pursuing those companies who illegally display the IAM name or logo on their website in an effort to mislead a customer. Last, we have bolstered our membership requirements so that IAM is not legitimizing any company who wishes to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. Taken together, these efforts should provide a more secure environment for future consumers as well as our members.
We would like to thank president Terry Head and program manager Brian Limperopulos for their time.