IRTA (The International Reciprocal Trade Association) has a crisis. It is a multi-faceted one but the bubble has burst recently with the revelations in Bartercard’s Prospectus that indicate to me that deals behind the scenes were very likely attempted. While the crisis will likely be presented as one to do with Bartercard’s recently revealed deal, it is actually one of structure, vision and leadership although conduct may come into it to some degree. With eight weeks to their Annual Conference they actually have time and an opportunity to start to resolve it, but they are in a Catch 22 for the very people and systems that got them into their mess will be the ones who will likely have to get them out of the mess – so it very likely won’t happen. It’s pretty much an impossible situation. I detail possible solutions moving forward but very much fear that my words will fall on deaf ears.
In this fourth in a series of posts on Barter, I focus my attention on an association that engenders high emotions. Love ’em or hate ’em, there is clearly a long history with the organisation and everyone I speak to reports their own experiences quite passionately.
For the record, I am not associated with IRTA in any way. I have no beef with them over anything. I had a good clean business relationship with the Executive Director and the President when I investigated conman Daniel Evans and wrote about the Ormita fraud, but had never spoken to them prior to that and rarely since. They helped fill me in on many of the historical details relating to the fraudster’s activities and they were pretty jolly happy when I managed to spearhead enough traction to close the dodgy operation down. I offered my services to the Board in early 2014 as an effective strategic thinker and having a relatively good knowledge of the industry and alternative currencies but they failed to respond to the offer. I don’t hold that against them as I can be a little prickly at times and may be a little hot to handle for a conservative operation with issues. I’m pretty ambivalent as to their future. I care about people individually and of course the truth but I have no special interest in either helping them (although I’m happy to), or in taking them down (unless of course they do things that deceive or hurt others in which case they could easily suffer at my words!)
The Key Issues
That said now, here are IRTA’s issues as I see them.
 First, IRTA is an association with members voting in a Board of Directors. There’s your first problem. Committees do not work. Consensus is a pipe dream for anything other than maintaining status quo. Conflicts of interest will always occur. Conflicts of personalities and vision exist the world over. The only associations that work are those that have a few individuals with the energy and vision to make things happen. IRTA grew this way as their Hall of Honour shows. Boards that seek strong visionary leadership and then support and resource their visionary CAN make it work, but this is not only the exception to the rule, it is still a substandard option.
 Secondly the whole concept of democracy is unbiblical and is the perfect breeding ground for self-interest, corruption and politics. None of these ills sit comfortably with a results orientated visionary taking the organisation (and industry) forward. Most people who have and do fight for democracy have not researched alternatives (especially biblical solutions) and defend the concept vehemently before listening to reason and actually observing the world around them. Reality in the political sphere is defined by the ‘Money Power’. It always has been and unless there is a widespread decrease in the deception that democracy is the only answer to all our ills, it always will be. The challenges that IRTA is facing are a direct result of people using the same flawed system that most want to defend. Bang your head on another concrete wall if you have a headache with these words, then do it again if it hurts but the wall won’t be budging anytime soon. Democracy benefits those with money most!
 Thirdly, the Board is ineffective, most likely divided and certainly not visionary. That one particular company can secure the exclusive support* of an organisation (supposedly out there to help all its members) . . . then for those vested interests to do the deal right under the nose of the Board . . . then for IRTA to casually stand by and let that company announce the deal in their IPO without a word to the public about it is a damning indictment of their incompetence. Sleeping on the job, divided, careless, corrupt . . . who cares? The point is that they are simply ineffective. I would note that individually they may all be great people, but looking at the performance of the Board as a whole, my observation remains.
 Fourthly, putting their people and structure to one side, the industry they represent has serious challenges. Change the likes of which the industry has never had to cope with before has been in the winds for a good decade and the industry will not exist in the same format within the next decade. Unprecedented challenges (including revolutionary technology and currencies) are on the verge of hitting IRTA and its constituency from all directions. Internet-based technologies and systems have and will continue to impact membership systems, loyalty systems, currencies, trading techniques and trading patterns. Political and central banking interests will continue to influence and hinder the industry from doing what it used to and considers its right as well. IRTA is poorly placed to weather these challenges OR to capitalise upon them.
The Bartercard Fiasco
Let’s deal with just some of these issues – first to the Bartercard fiasco. Whoever initiated the contact with Bartercard (assuming that Trevor Dietz is shooting straight about this when he says that IRTA approached him to White Label his technology) needs a bouquet for trying to secure the best technical solution from the industry and put IRTA out there. I doubt that they got it right with their chosen technical solution and the politics surrounding the thing stinks to high heaven with the UC platform moving back and forwards recently BUT somebody clearly did something and tried to achieve something. Let’s acknowledge that positive, regardless of how foolhardy or corrupt it may have been. As I said in my previous commentary, Bartercard was stupid to take up the offer and even more insane to put their operation out to an IPO on the basis of a dodgy deal but the guy, girl or team that dreamed this up did very well! It’s certainly creative if nothing else. IRTA though is simply not up to the commercial game by design (they’re an association of course!) AND with its indecisiveness, internal politics and conflicts of interest any implementation of the plan would always have flopped BUT the idea was an attempt at good business.
I would note again that I don’t know the story from IRTA’s side yet. An Emergency IRTA Board Meeting will have to occur and no doubt they will come up with some sort of belated response that tries to explain away what Trevor Dietz and the Bartercard Prospectus shouts about. I’m waiting with baited breath for it. In the interim, the hotline between Bartercard and IRTA may be running red-hot . . . or perhaps the hot-line may have gone rather chilly since the IPO was announced and I broke the story. No doubt we’ll find out soon.
If a deal was signed and IRTA denies it then Bartercard should just show us the document. If there’s a confidentiality clause in it, I’d just strike it out and risk being sued, for their reputation is surely on the line over this one. Their Prospectus makes it very clear what the deal was.Trevor has basically said that they floated BECAUSE IRTA promised them an exclusive. Woah, that’s a big scary risk if you ask me!
IRTA would have to accept that the story was going to get out there sometime so, no big deal . . . I would just take the initiative to ensure my credibility! Rest assured that anyone who dreamed up this sort of scheme would have no hesitation to dump their ex-partner who embarrassed them, if it came to that. Going from hero to zero can actually just take the flick of a switch if they want to! IRTA has a long history of politics and discarded relationships scatter the countryside!
If there was a deal but it wasn’t clear, wasn’t ratified or there was some confusion, then the two entities should not only sort it out but explain how the confusion arose, and how they then got to the new agreement. In the meantime bartercard’s IPO is in a questionable state. They should not list until the matters ARE clear. This attempt at clarity may of course be the spin, from one or either of the parties but I’ll analyse it thoroughly if this is their chosen option.
If there was no deal then I’d eat my hat but IRTA should really hammer Bartercard and let the world know in no uncertain terms that they are talking porkies. If so, then the Bartercard rep on the board should be kicked into touch forthwith, black-flagged, sin-binned or whatever.
From what I’ve seen thus far, I think there was a deal, most probably exactly as Trevor Dietz and the Bartercard Prospectus details, probably engineered by the President Annette Riggs and Executive Director Ron Whitney and most likely in collusion with (or with the tacit support of) some of the Board. The Universal Currency platform has moved around a little recently and as I understand it they failed in an effort to get their own solution. The GETs system is flavour of the month although I understand that they tried to move away from it but moved back. Approaching Bartercard for their solution makes perfect sense, most likely as they try to achieve their longterm goal to build an industry platform. Once again I don’t yet have IRTAs response to all this, but this is the picture as I currently see it. They have strong income streams from the UC currency and as masters of the currency they are able to see, use and manage it as they so wish. They are not entirely stupid. Whoever owns UC is in a VERY powerful position and they know it well.
Whether IRTA is in the best position to run a global Clearing House or not is another question, and what their goals should be in this arena are things for a bit of soul searching.
The Association Structure
Putting aside the people, personalities, performance, strategic stuff and any immediate current issues for a moment, IRTA in its current structure can never fire. It’s had its day because of its structure. Associations are an invention for a time and a season and that season is in its twilight. People now want and demand results. People want meaningful relationships. People want it NOW. People want clarity, simplicity, efficiency, transparency, integrity and they hate politics. That shouts out for a business or a benign dictatorship of some sort. In a post-WW2 age Associations worked well.
The mindset of the population was suited to an Association, where things looked good, people accepted the inefficiencies because they didn’t want war and so against all reason they believed in the idea of an Association. They trusted this idea against all common sense because the alternatives were too frightening and challenging. They didn’t want another Hitler. The world is a different place now. The thought-leaders of the next couple of decades are NOT the leaders at present. People in their twenties now look at IRTA and yawn, that’s if they are not spewing. They know and understand that IRTA and their ilk are not the future that they want.
Internet technologies to date have not really delivered the goods on the alternative currency/monetary scene, but they will in the next decade. Not only do the business people of the future live, eat and breath the web, they are highly critical of all the current systems – social, commercial and technical. IRTA in its current form will struggle to survive. It surely will but without a structural change it will always achieve less than new smart commercial solutions. Navel gazing and bleating from the outside needs to move to a full-on commitment to tackling the future industry challenges with a structure and purpose that meets the needs of the businesses that will be leading the way, and those are VERY unlikely to be the businesses that even exist today.
The interesting thing though is that the new leaders don’t have the experience to bring about the changes as solidly as those who have been there and done that thus I think IRTA is in a unique and powerful position to capitalise on the changes occuring BUT they are unlikely to conduct the required structural metamorphosis and undertake the paradigm mental shift that would put them where they should be in the coming decades.
Dealing with the past
If there is one thing that stands out strongly in all my dealings with and discussions about IRTA is that there is a VERY strong focus on the past. Other than an old-peoples home, I can’t think of an industry, an association or a people group that is so focussed on the past and dealing with the past from all my decades in business. Be it the issues with IRTA/Nate; the rolling of dead wood by the newbies; the personal conflicts from historical injustices; the history of financial shenannigans; the purpose of the association and even the direction for the future . . . it is all inexorably interwoven with the past.
I’ve witnessed many industries disrupted with change, usually technological change. My father was a watchmaker and I watched as a teenager an entire industry decimated with the arrival of throw-away watches. Nobody wanted to repair an old watch when you could buy a new one for less than the cost of a repair. I moved through the computer hardware, software and Internet industries as they too came and morphed at increasingly rapid rates. I’ve seen the resistance of the Trade Exchange industry to change and their fierce defence of their own patch, be it membership lists, currencies, IP or whatever . . . both of these approaches (resistance to change and strong defence) are heavily locked into the past and totally contrary to what the people actually want, and where the world will move.
IRTA’s next Board Meeting too will almost certainly deal with the past. Their first issue on the agenda will surely be “What happened with the Bartercard deal?” They will be asking, “Who did what and when and why?” Natural of course but again . . . the past. Of course they will have to address the matter of what to do about it now that it has blown up but Bob’s your uncle they will make decisions based on protecting their reputations, protecting their patch, worried about the things in the context of the past. This is what bureaucrats, committees and Association Boards do, especially with weak and ineffective leadership who lack vision**.
The Perfect Response
Perfection doesn’t exist in a fallen world, and even if it did we’d probably still want to criticise it and change it but this is my vision for the IRTA Board. Assuming that the Bartercard deal was done as I have deduced it to have been then:
- Get the facts out there . . . FAST. It’s three days now since the IPO opened, two days since I blogged with the revelation and my damning commentary and only four days to Bartercard’s application to list on the ASX. Every hour that goes by with www.dennis.co.nz appearing on the SERPs and Google Alerts for Bartercard without response from IRTA (or Bartercard BTW) is helping destroy the work that they have put into the IPO and increase tension between Bartercard and IRTA. That’s putting BSP Technologies $3m investment into the IPO (according to Trevor Dietz) at serious risk.
- Protect the relationship with Bartercard at all costs. Something happened betwen the two entities so take the fall to protect that relationship and IRTA will be seen to have some credibility. Cutting Bartercard loose at this point would totally destroy IRTA’s credibilty for rest very assured many are watching with much interest. Emotions in some quarters are naturally quite elevated and Bartercard hasn’t exactly got a clean record in the USA, Canada or the UK!
- All participants in the scheme should apologise to the IRTA members (especially other software vendors who are IRTA members) and offer their resignation forthwith. Those on the Executive who were in on it; those on the Board who were in on it . . . everyone who touched it in some way should step down immediately. Leaving aside their motivations (good or bad) their errors of judgement are surely of such a magnitude that their decisions relating to such a critical matter like this are not worthy of their position. Period.
- The remaining players should spend a week in purgatory and only come out once they’ve eaten enough of the humble pie they need to, to wake up and have gotten a little more street smart.
- Once humbled and wiser, they should go through the resignations one by one and assess whether or not the resignations were genuine. The remaining Board should reject those resignations that indicate sincerity and accept those that are not.
- The entire rejigged team should seek professional assistance on establishing a sensible strategy into the future so that the members have some sort of picture of their vision for the future. Voting people into power is one side of the equation but it is a lesser one. Voting in of a vision is more important. Widespread buy-in to a vision is crucial.
- They should all then resign en-masse at or coinciding with the up-coming Meeting, putting the fate of the organisation 100% right back into the true owners of the Association – the members. In doing so they should individually state their vision, their roles in the Association’s business, offer their take clearly and in enough detail that the voting members can make informed decisions.
- The upcoming conference in Cancun should be offered FREE to all IRTA Members. It doesn’t matter what it costs – even a full year’s profit would be worth it, for whoever made the decision to do so would be seen to be serious enough to deal with IRTA’s problems, would gain credibility and could be a strong leader.
- Members should watch the coming events like a hawk. Any Board Member that resigns voluntarily from here-on-in should be approached personally to find out why they pulled out and then probably encouraged to stand again, for they will likely be the best ones to lead IRTA successfully into the future.
In 2006, as a thought leader and major player in the New Zealand web development space, I approached the industry with the idea to establish co-operation through a national organisation or association. I sought feedback from the industry, travelled the entire country at my own expense, opening the idea to all and sundry. The feedback was overwhelming . . . there was no confidence (none) that any voting body would successfully “herd cats”.
I listened to the people carefully. They wanted all the things that I mentioned above, and it is best explained by the simple sentiment, “Deliver the goods and we’ll be happy to pay for it!”
Assessing this as best suited to a commercial structure rather than an Association, I established the Web Developers Association of New Zealand as a company (Web Developers Association of New Zealand Limited) and it worked well. We achieved great things for our members while we were operating – they got what they wanted (a nice clean brand that put our members could be proud about, support, networking and so on) and they paid for it. It was a very clean operation with strong leadership, a clear vision and implemented moderately well. It succeeded in its goals and worked well for those involved. Owning the industry? Not. Owning the niche for professional Web Developers in New Zealand? Yes. Everybody in agreement with the principal about everything he said? Nope, but politics, inefficiency and divison? None! Detractors claimed that there was no accountability in a commercial structure. They were proved to be shallow thinkers because we proved that commercial reality was a greater form of accountability than any other. If I screwed up I paid. Period!
I learned a lot from that experience.
Again when I commenced my investigation into conman Daniel Evans and his Ormita fraud, I sought the financial assistance of people ‘out there’ who also wanted to see the facts come to light. People joined me as partners, variously funding the investigation in the way that they wanted to because they believed in the cause. I set the vision and some followed and supported it. This is simple commercial reality where one person says, “I want, I will do/give/achieve”, and those that believe in the vision will resource it. Usually this will be those that get the most benefit, but that’s life!
This is what the industry needs – visionaries and doers working alongside with those that resource the vision involved as they so choose.
The bad news is that IRTA has not and cannot deliver the goods moving forward with its current problems. Even a clean sweep of the Executive AND the Board will not be able to deliver unless strong visionary leadership arrives** and structural changes occur.
The good news is that it is possible to morph the IRTA Association into what is needed to tackle the challenges that the industry will be facing. It just needs strong visionary leadership and a Board ready and willing to bite the bullet, eat humble pie and pay the price to support that leader.
Sadly, knowing human nature . . . knowing how politics, self-interest and other ills clouds issues and muddies the waters, I would expect IRTA to be in the same situation as they currently are in a year, or two, or three. My prediction is: status quo. More broken relationships. More indecision. More fighting, politics, navel-gazing, talk, gossip, internal strife and heartache.
Understanding this will likely bring sadness to those who live in the past, but it creates opportunity for those who live in the present and live for the future. I try to balance all three as best I can, learning from the past identifying patterns that help me to live in the present wisely, in light of the future that I see.
Given what I have seen to date, the future of IRTA is likely bleak.
The future of the industry is also bleak with substantial and disruptive change inevitable.
The future of people like me who think, are creative and who have the guts to shoot straight and help others is bright.
I wish to share a big thanks to all who have supported me in speaking it like it is, and helping me to understand the industry, the technologies, the personalities and thus the opportunities. It is from you that I derive the core information that makes my commentaries meaty and hopefully valuable.
As always I offer a full Right of Reply to anyone wanting to do so.
** I do not claim that current leadership is not doing anything but the Association’s problems require more than what the current President, Board and Executive Director are able to deliver in the current structure with their current mindset.
This post is the fourth post in a series about Barter. In my next post I examine IRTA’s ills, addressing the many complaints and problems I’ve heard about them.
The Barter Series
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View an index of all articles in The Barter Series, sorted by Date or by Key Subject.