2001 FCIB Conference: Credit Management in Troubled Times
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2001 FCIB Conference: Credit Management in Troubled Times
Published by: Business Credit Magazine, National Association of Credit Management
Hansen, Fay
January 1, 2002

 


 

Highlights of the Article:

(...) Conference participants flocked to a session on the war on terrorism and its implications for credit management, presented by (...) Skip Brandon, COO, Smith Brandon International. "Our world has changed in a lot of ways," said Brandon, who is also former deputy assistant director of the FBI, with responsibility for the national security and counter-terrorism programs. "You must be increasingly aware of how and with whom you do business abroad--and not just in terms of good money and bad money, but more philosophically. Businesses must become increasingly concerned about governments and how they rule." (...)

"Every business should have a crisis management plan," Brandon advised, "whether you are a four-person company or a 40,000-person company. You need to think about this now. You need a plan--not just because of terrorism, but because it's a good business practice. What happened on September 11th was a wake-up call for companies that don't have a crisis management plan or haven't looked at their plan recently." (...)

In response to a question from the audience, Brandon discussed new federal requirements that hold companies accountable for the sources of funds they receive--part of the antiterrorist campaign launched in September. "You are going to have to do some level of due diligence on virtually everybody you do business with," Brandon warned. "The laws put the onus on you, and you will be held responsible for identifying the sources of funds." (...)

For the full article see below.




Credit managers from top companies joined with international experts to tackle credit issues in the context of terrorism, money laundering and global recession.

Credit professionals from 23 states and six countries attended the Twelfth Annual FCIB Global Conference in Coral Gables, Florida on November 12-14, sponsored by Euler ACI, AON Trade Credit, JPMorgan and PNC Bank. "We have to press forward with business as usual," said FCIB president Ken Garrison, Jr. as he welcomed the participants, many of whom braved difficult travel conditions to attend the conference. He extended his gratitude to the sponsors of the conference.

Garrison noted that in the wake of September llth and the ongoing global recession, there is a new sense of urgency in gaining first-hand information on credit management from international experts in the field. Credit managers attended conference sessions on letters of credit, export risk mitigation techniques, money laundering, credit risks in Latin America, and new credit conditions created by the antiterrorism campaign, plus an "around the world" roundtable discussion on country-specific credit issues.

Prospects for Emerging Markets

Keynote speaker Vanessa Weaver, member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, opened the conference with an analysis of the global economy and emerging markets. Weaver outlined the synchronized slowdown in the United States, Europe and Japan, and expressed confidence that the governments in all three regions are taking appropriate steps to foster recovery in 2002. She cautioned, however, that "Any number of factors could send us into a sharper and longer slowdown." If recovery begins in 2002, Weaver believes that "It will be led by the United States, followed by Europe, and then in 2003, emerging markets will begin to recover." The rebound will be rapid after the upturn, she predicted, fueled by aggressive interest rate cuts and technology-driven productivity growth in both the U.S. and Europe.

Weaver said that the Export-Import Bank and other financial institutions need to "step up to the plate and provide the kind of financing needed to allow exports to occur during 2002 so we can all pull the global economy back up and ensure that U.S. companies gain footholds in emerging markets, where most of the profits and opportunities will occur in the next decade." She noted that there has been an enormous retreat in private capital flows from emerging markets, creating serious difficulties in countries such as Brazil, Turkey and Argentina. The simultaneous downturn in the U.S., Europe and Japan, she said, has set off an unprecedented deceleration in world trade, which is also adversely affecting emerging markets.

"Private capital flows will return to emerging markets in a very selective, discriminating way in 2002 and 2003," Weaver predicted. "Many companies are accustomed to dealing with emerging markets; they understand the risks and develop the relationships they need. Most U.S. companies, however, don't think about trade with China or Thailand, for example." Weaver warned that U.S. companies "will not be able to compete in the global economy 10 years from now unless we get serious about trade with emerging markets. Europe will be able to compete. Europe is already all over Africa, Latin America and East Asia, and will continue to do well."

Weaver explained that throughout the 1990s, many developing countries instituted striking changes,, including diversifying into manufacturing and away from their reliance on commodities. "They gained global market share that will position them to expand in 2003, and there will be real opportunities," she said. "Between 2003 or 2004 and 2010, the emerging markets will see even greater profits than they did in the 1990s, which was a significant period for many U.S. companies with interests in these areas. By 2003, low interest rates, global recovery, increased confidence and reduced perceptions of risk will signal the return of capital flows to emerging markets." Weaver predicted that emerging markets will see GDP growth of 5 percent in 2003, with 6.8 percent in East Asia, 4.5 percent in Latin America, and 4.5 percent in Central Europe.

Export-Import Bank's Role

The Export-Import Bank has come under criticism in the past year, Weaver noted, by those who believe that private markets should govern financing decisions. "These critics don't understand the role of international financing and the importance of the Export-Import Bank and other export credit agencies around the world," she argued. "We want the Export-Import Bank to be far more aggressive. This doesn't mean that we will take on bad loans or bad risks. It means that we will structure the deals well, understand the cash flows, and step up to approve new deals that would otherwise not go forward in 2002."

Critics argue that if the Bank provides financing where a commercial bank wouldn't, the Bank is simply making bad loans. "They are wrong," Weaver said. "There are good loans and good projects that private financial institutions will not take on, primarily because they don't have enough information. Export-Import Bank personnel can go in to a minister of finance or the president of a company and ask for accounting records that are audited under IAS rules, and we can push for reforms and the kind of structures that are needed. The Bank should not compete with the private sector but provide a bridge between declining times and good times."

EXIM Bank does significant work in China, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Thailand and South Korea, "So we have an enormous amount of experience and understanding about these countries and about individual projects," Weaver said. "We hope to do more in Russia next year. We talk constantly with ministers of finance and others in these countries to ensure that legal reforms that benefit creditors are instituted properly and enforced." She closed her presentation by urging credit professionals to "Let us know what you need. We are going to drive the Export-Import Bank forward, and we are pushing for new policies that will help you."

War on Terrorism

Conference participants flocked to a session on the war on terrorism and its implications for credit management, presented by Dr. Hans P. Belcsak, president of S.J. Rundt & Associates, and Skip Brandon, COO, Smith Brandon International. "Our world has changed in a lot of ways," said Brandon, who is also former deputy assistant director of the FBI, with responsibility for the national security and counter-terrorism programs. "You must be increasingly aware of how and with whom you do business abroad--and not just in terms of good money and bad money, but more philosophically. Businesses must become increasingly concerned about governments and how they rule."

"There are governments in the Arab peninsula that are very vulnerable," Brandon explained, "because they have ruled as autocrats and, at times, been oppressive. You will have to factor this in when you think about where and about how you will do business. Are you, for example, going to have large groups of expatriates abroad? Expatriates living well in a compound can draw a negative response."

September 11th demonstrated that there are "People who take a violent approach to the world, and there are conditions that push people toward this," Brandon said. "We may not understand them, and businesses certainly cannot control all of the conditions. But you will have to be much more aware of them, and you will have to become either part of the continuing problem or, more realistically, part of the solution on a long-term basis. This is not to say that you will have to have your own foreign affairs department, but you will have to be much more aware. We can't simply stop doing business abroad. Economies are so intertwined now that we couldn't rip them apart if we wanted to."

Crisis Management

Companies can begin to formulate a response to post-September 11th conditions by looking at one small part of their preparedness. "Every business should have a crisis management plan," Brandon advised, "whether you are a four-person company or a 40,000-person company. You need to think about this now. You need a plan--not just because of terrorism, but because it's a good business practice. What happened on September 11th was a wake-up call for companies that don't have a crisis management plan or haven't looked at their plan recently."

Brandon advised the conference participants to "keep your crisis management plan simple, and make sure that people know it exists. It must be a living document. If you have a huge thick plan, throw it out, because you don't have an effective plan. If your plant catches on fire, or a hurricane hits, or your CEO and half of your board of directors are killed in a plane crash, that thick plan won't get you through."

The plan should provide basic guidance on the most important steps in managing a crisis. "You have to know how to get the information you need to make good decisions, and you need a process for verifying that information. If you look back at September 11th, you'll remember that all sorts of claims were made that weren't true," Brandon noted. "You also need the ability to communicate under severe pressure with your key decision-makers. This is critical, and causes companies more problems than other aspects of crisis management."

In response to a question from the audience, Brandon discussed new federal requirements that hold companies accountable for the sources of funds they receive--part of the antiterrorist campaign launched in September. "You are going to have to do some level of due diligence on virtually everybody you do business with," Brandon warned. "The laws put the onus on you, and you will be held responsible for identifying the sources of funds." Brandon advised credit managers to check the government list of individuals, organizations and businesses that U.S. companies are no longer allowed to do business with.

Money Laundering

Credit managers packed the session on money laundering, where Robert Mazur, president of Chase & Associates, Inc. and a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, described new antilaundering programs launched by the U.S. government that dramatically affect all companies doing business abroad. Mazur described in detail several recent "corporate disasters" that occurred when major companies were charged with violating money laundering laws. When Mazur concluded his presentation, he was flooded with questions from the audience about identifying money laundering risks, recognizing "red flags," and IRS Form 8300 filings.

The red flags Mazur noted include payments from multiple sources, an unusual number of payments from the same source, checks containing multiple styles of entries, checks with multiple endorsements or originating from a jurisdiction unrelated to the customer's business presence, an irregular volume of business, and customers who are unwilling to provide bank or industry references or unusually concerned about Form 8300 requirements. Mazur also warned the audience about customers who appear to be acting as the agent for another party, who maintain a credit balance for periods inconsistent with the nature of the business, and who seem relatively unconcerned about transaction costs.

Breakout Sessions

In a breakout session on letters of credit, William Hindon, vice president, JP Morgan Chase, outlined the components and types of LCs, their advantages and disadvantages and common problems and solutions. In a concurrent session, Gerald Rama, senior vice president and deputy group head international, PNC Bank, N.A., spoke on export risk mitigation techniques, including forfeiting, credit insurance and guarantees.

Latin America

A special panel discussion on credit risks and pitfalls in Latin America included Patrick Connelly, senior vice president for worldwide credit services, Tech Data Corp.; Ronald Goldberg, partner, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP; and Richard Maxwell, senior vice president, EULER American Credit Indemnity Co. The panelists noted that competitive pressures are pushing exporters to take greater risks in extending credit in Latin America, and discussed methods for mitigating risks within a competitive environment. Ronald Goldberg outlined alternative payment methods for U.S. companies selling goods or services to companies in Argentina, including methods that do not incur additional costs, such as a Letra de Cambio and a Pagare. Richard Maxwell spoke on underwriting trade credit risk in Latin America, with details on specific country risks. Pat Connelly, a seasoned international credit executive, shared his first-hand experience on Latin America.

Round Table

The conference closed with a round table discussion of country-specific questions and export credit topics submitted by conference participants and FCIB members. Moderated by Paul Beretz, managing director of Pacific Business Solutions, the panel included Lou Aguilera, vice president, asset based global finance, Citibank International; William Bastiaan, global credit risk manager, DSM Sales Offices B.V.; Ignacio Pumarejo Gonzalez, CEO of P.M. Grupo Corporativo, S.A. and partner in the law firm of Pumarejo, Sanchez Rochin y Marquez Asociados; and Alice Knight, vice president of finance, Pacific Paper Marketing USA, Inc. The panelists and members were engaged in a discussion about Argentina, including questions about payment experience, credit insurance and Patacones payments. Panelists and attendees shared their views and credit experience in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, China, Japan and the Philippines.

The conference ended with Frank Brogan, Lieutenant Governor of Florida, who greeted the conference participants and thanked them for coming to "the Sunshine State".
Highlights of the Article:

(...) Although the economy is doing well, companies that want to conduct business in the global market should not throw caution to the wind, said Gene Smith, founding partner of Smith Brandon International, specializing in international investigative services. A significant sale can go sour after the product is delivered due to a lack of background knowledge and business intelligence, she told delegates. (...)

"Some business gurus advise Western-based businesses to set foreign sales targets of 40 percent of all business revenues. But any global ventures must take into consideration the potential risks as well as rewards," she said. (...)

The Internet enables companies to do business around the world by connecting them, but global connections also "create serious security concerns," said Harry Brandon, founding partner of Smith Brandon International. The "Love Bug" virus was created in the Philippines but quickly swamped computer networks around the world, he reminded delegates. "Is the credit information you have on file secure from hackers?" he asked the delegates. (...)

Even with the risks associated with the Internet, Brandon says companies have "no choice" but to embrace electronic commerce. "The goal is to do it right, in a safe, secure, protected environment." (...)

For the full article see below.




If credit managers felt they were somehow immune to the business effects of the digital revolution, electronic commerce innovation and global economic transformation, they discovered differently at "Exploring the New Frontier", NACM-Canada's second annual Credit Conference and Expo held in Toronto, Ontario on October 11 and 12.

The Internet brings disparate cultures together for social and commercial interactions. Global communication at Web speed changes both the nature of societies and the culture of business, conference speakers told the NACM delegates. In a world where almost every new business venture begins with an "E", geographic boundaries are disappearing, and companies are open 24 hours a day.

Instant digital connectivity creates a host of business opportunities and challenges, delegates were told. Credit managers need to protect corporate financial interests while supporting the development of new opportunities. Armed with new digital tools, they can process information faster and make decisions quicker. At the same time, they are dealing with more information from more sources than ever before. That's life on the new frontier.

OUTLOOK POSITIVE

When it comes to overall financial matters, "the global outlook for the next 18 months or so continues to be upbeat, not withstanding the sharp increases in oil and natural gas prices," Dr. Lloyd Atkinson, chief investment officer for Perigee Investment Counsel Inc., an investment and money management solutions firm, told conference delegates.

Growth is driven by the technology revolution, and the pre-emptive action taken by central banks, most notably the US Federal Reserve, to keep inflation in check. The result: US productivity has increased significantly at inflation-safe speeds. Inflationary pressures have been contained and there have been real gains in wages, salaries and corporate earnings.

While there will be economic slow downs, "they will be much more muted than in the past, and there is no recession in the five year forecast... Barring economic accidents, such as occurred in Asia in 1997, we continue to be very optimistic about the longer term," Atkinson said.

While business-to-consumer e-commerce ventures such as Amazon.com have received a great deal of media play, Atkinson called them "small potatoes" compared to business-to-business e-commerce. The old economy--automotive, financial services and other traditional sectors--are using the tools of the new economy to change the way they do business. For instance, General Motors will use the Internet to reduce distribution costs by 30 percent over three years. This is a direct benefit to General Motors and suppliers who adapt to the news ways of doing business in the digital age will also benefit.

CAUTION ADVISED

Although the economy is doing well, companies that want to conduct business in the global market should not throw caution to the wind, said Gene Smith, founding partner of Smith Brandon International, specializing in international investigative services. A significant sale can go sour after the product is delivered due to a lack of background knowledge and business intelligence, she told delegates.

Even though there are risks, "there is no option to sit out e-commerce." Forecasters indicate that e-commerce will generate $ 1.3 trillion dollars in global sales in 2003. "Some business gurus advise Western-based businesses to set foreign sales targets of 40 percent of all business revenues. But any global ventures must take into consideration the potential risks as well as rewards," she said.

To successfully tap global markets, companies require strategic plans that integrate e-commerce into their overall business strategies before they build secure, transactional-based Web sites. And they cannot afford to overlook due diligence. "A classic case of 'it's too good to be true' is often accompanied by an online request--or even demand--to evaluate a proposal quickly and sign the necessary papers at once," she said. "If the prospect is so compelling, it can wait until it is given adequate review."

If a new client places an order from your web site, how do you determine who they are, if they have the authority to place such an order and if their company has the ability to pay? A company can "proceed on faith," or it can sort out all potential transactional dilemmas before hanging its shingle in cyberspace. The Internet is making it easier for companies to conduct business in foreign countries, and it is making it easier for companies to conduct credit checks on foreign companies, said Julie Gage, business project manager, Dun & Bradstreet Canada, a NACM-Canada Credit Conference sponsor. Companies like Dun & Bradstreet can help credit managers adopt to the new global reach of the Internet by providing them with background and credit information online or by e-mail, she said. Scott Blakeley, partner with Blakeley & Blakeley LLP, concurred. The most dramatic effect on the Internet "is the shortening of the credit cycle," he said. Vendors are using the Internet to conduct background and credit checks on com panies, cutting dramatically into the time required to approve credit.

SECURITY A CONCERN

The Internet enables companies to do business around the world by connecting them, but global connections also "create serious security concerns," said Harry Brandon, founding partner of Smith Brandon International. The "Love Bug" virus was created in the Philippines but quickly swamped computer networks around the world, he reminded delegates. "Is the credit information you have on file secure from hackers?" he asked the delegates.

Companies are even posting order acknowledgement forms and invoices on secure web sites that customers can access. While clients enjoy the freedom of accessing information any time, they want to be assured their credit and purchasing history is secure, or they will look for other vendors.

"Computers are efficient, and they empower employees, but there are downsides," Brandon said. Fraud cost North American businesses $ 350 billion in 1990 and $ 400 billion in 1999. Computer fraud grew exponentially over this same time. Damages pegged at $ 300 million in 1990 hit $ 50 billion in 1999. Over 25 percent of Fortune 500 companies are computer crime victims, and employees have perpetrated many of the crimes.

Risk avoidance is obligatory. Firewalls and virus protection are required to keep hackers out. ID, passwords and other internal measures, including forensic audits, are required to prevent or track down illegal activity by employees.

Even with the risks associated with the Internet, Brandon says companies have "no choice" but to embrace electronic commerce. "The goal is to do it right, in a safe, secure, protected environment."

STREAMLINING THE CREDIT DEPARTMENT

Using technology to do it right also includes employing information technology systems to make the credit department more efficient, says Brian Cheney, vice president technology, IHS Solutions Limited, an information management solutions technology company. Companies can increase collection efficiency without increasing operational collection costs using technology, he said.

Companies moved from paper-based document management to microfiche and then to CD-ROM. Now they are moving to Web-based data that puts information in the hands of clients. For example, if a vendor establishes a secure e-business web site, clients can search for the status of orders or for lost invoices based on purchase order number, product code or other criteria. Centralized credit databases and computer networks allow credit managers to fax or e-mail "lost" invoices from their desktop to overdue accounts while on the phone. This gives the credit manager the opportunity to say: "It's there now, so let's talk about the bill."

Information management automation is not a process than can be implemented overnight. Companies must review existing business practices and define ideal practices and then build systems that meet defined needs. Staff input is important if they are to buy into, rather than resist, automation, Clients also have to be kept in the loop and reassured that credit and payment information is secure.

Automating the credit department and integrating back office databases with web sites can be expensive propositions. The results, however, can include streamlined business practices, improved productivity and a higher rate of closure on outstanding accounts, Cheney said. "But why stop there?" asked Mark Visic, vice-president sales, Kubra Data Transfer Ltd., a document fulfillment, management and e-commerce company. Although companies have automated many aspects of traditional "print and mail" bill presentment, they still spend time and money printing invoices, stuffing and stamping envelopes and mailing bills. The post office then takes time delivering bills, which customers lose or claim they did not receive. Some companies have outsourced the entire print and mail process, which means a third party has to spend time doing what internal staff once did. And the post office is still involved in the equation. An automated electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) can reduce the time it takes to get invoice s in the hands of customers and payment in the bank, Visic said.

EBPP is an emerging technology that will eventually replace mail, fax and electronic data interchange (EDI). "EBPP offers corporations the ability to send invoices or statements to consumers via the Internet and process an electronic payment. Companies employing EBPP can post bills on their web site, with a financial institution or a third party clearinghouse. The client receives a secure notification and can view and pay bills online using credit cards, debit cards or other forms of electronic payment, trimming time off the invoice-to-payment cycle. The electronic bill is traceable from the moment the client receives notification, Visic said.

While 7 in 10 companies indicate that billing cost reductions are key to EBPP, the process can also be used to bring clients to a vendor's web site, allowing the vendor to market its brand and continue to sell to the client. "Now bill payment can be used to increase brand awareness, loyalty and sales," Visic said. "This represents a new opportunity for businesses to strategically use billing to sharpen their competitive edge in the new electronic economy."

EBPP is not yet simple or inexpensive to implement. "There is considerable sticker shock," said Visic. The return on investment is not there for every company considering it. Even so, the future holds some form of EBPP for most companies.

If you are still skeptical, look back over the last five years and review how the digital revolution has influenced the way your company does business, and the way you work. "When it comes to advances in technology, we haven't seen anything yet," said Dr. Atkinson. "In five to ten years, we'll look back at the technology we are using today the way we look back at dinosaurs." In other words, companies and credit departments will continue to evolve with the digital world and global economy, or face extinction.

Paul Lima is a freelance journalist and workshop leader based in Toronto, Ontario.

As companies begin to conduct e-commerce in the global market place and move to online billing and payment systems, they must tackle the issue of international law head- on, speakers at NACM-Canada's second annual Credit Conference and Expo told delegates in Toronto.

"In the virtual world, as in the paper world, commerce is based on contracts," said Marie-Pierre Simard, copyright lawyer with the law firm Brouillette Charpentier Fortin. Before a dispute over a virtual contract arises, credit managers need to know what makes virtual contracts acceptable to the courts. "Sometimes it seems as if the law cannot keep up with the information age. Yet, people involved in e-commerce must be able to identify the laws upon which e-commerce relies so that [virtual contracts] may be seen as a valid, enforceable, credible way to do business."

The federal governments in Canada and the US are developing national standards to govern e-commerce transactions, but many provinces and states have different laws, as do different jurisdiction around the world.

In some countries, only contracts with handwritten signatures are allowed in court. In other countries, an electronic signature (fax, scanned document, use of a PIN or password) is acceptable. Other jurisdictions--particularly in North America and Western Europe--will accept digital or encrypted signatures to prove a client ordered a product, and the vendor shipped in good faith.

In the US, electronic signatures cannot be "denied legal effect, validity or enforcement solely because it is in electronic form", said Scott Blakeley of Blakeley & Blakeley LLR. However, an electronic signature does not mean a company will win its case. All other laws for commerce come into play.

Blakeley also warned credit managers to be careful about what they write in email, especially if discussing a client's credit information with a third party. E-mail is easy to send, receive and forward, and sometimes people forget slander and conspiracy laws that cover the printed word, he said.

There are risks and opportunities associated with doing business in the global economy. When dealing with new clients in foreign countries, companies can protect themselves by insuring receivables, explained Angela Boston, business development manager, Export Development Corporation, which is a Canadian crown corporation that helps credit managers mitigate risk in 160 countries.

Her thoughts were echoed by Mark Hall, associate broker and credit insurance specialist with Dan Lawrie Insurance Brokers Ltd. Hall, which offers credit insurance for both domestic and global markets. "This is not a replacement for due diligence or a well-managed credit department," he said. "But it adds another layer of security."

If companies are having difficulty collecting uninsured payables, they can use training or technology to improve their ability to collect, or outsource collectables.

"Effective training can show people how to be assertive, not aggressive and collect more while retaining customers they want to keep," said Tim Paulsen of T. R. Paulsen & Associates, a company specializing in "creative receivables management."

Automating the collection process can boost the rate of return, says David Phillips, Guthrie Phillips Group (GPG) president and CEO. GPG's CAT2000 recovery system puts complete customer history in the hands of each staff member and schedules follow-up correspondence and calls. It can be connected to the company accounting system and updated the moment an invoice has been paid, so collectors are working from current information.

If collectables get out of hand and hiring more staff is not an option, then companies might look to outsourcing some or all the responsibility, says Robert Ingold, president of The Commercial Collection Corp. He admits some companies resent having bills turned over to collection agencies. However, his company can "work as an extension of the credit department" so the overdue client doesn't know the account has been turned over to a collection agency.

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