Be Careful Out There

From Roy Stout, CMA Board Chairman

My parting advice to you last month (in CMA News) was to “…stay healthy, happy and out of trouble.” I spent some time this last month thinking about that very last comment. I soon realized just how easy it is for us, as credit professions, to get ourselves in real trouble, real quick.


Every time we answer a request for trade information, we put ourselves at risk for violating confidential rules, accusations of defaming one’s character and most importantly violating anti-trust laws. I find myself spending more and more time scrutinizing the volume of faxed/mailed trade reference requests I receive daily. I am shocked and amazed at the questions that are being asked on these forms. Would you believe that one such request the other day asked, “Would you recommend doing business with this customer?” No sooner had I recovered from the shock of that question and I was confronted with the next two questions: “What terms would you recommend?” and “What credit line would you recommend?” I was flabbergasted.


A novice credit professional that sends such a request is easily spotted and I am finding more and more of these requests that must be edited or rejected altogether. I think this may be a two sided sword. I think it shows that we are seeing more and more new people entering our chosen field. I find that exciting as these are the people we can mentor into the leadership roles of the credit profession of the future. The troublesome edge is what is going to happen when one of those novices actually answers those questions.


As a seasoned credit professional, I know that I not only have the legal obligation to notify the sender how inappropriate the form is and that I am unable to respond because of the legal implication, but I see this as an excellent opportunity to speak with the other party and help educate them. Most have been very receptive to my comments and stated that they were unaware of what they had done. Well, then it is like shooting fish in a barrel. I crawl up on my old soap box and begin to preach the merits of being a member of an NACM affiliate, participating in educational programs and attending an Industry Credit Group or Credit professional group. 


Speaking of Industry Credit Groups, this may very well be the safest venues to exchange trade information. As I understand it, to date, no Industry Trade Group has been successfully sued over the exchange of trade payment information. I contribute that to a group of individuals who are not always recognized or appreciated for their hard work and dedication—the group secretaries. These individuals not only keep us informed of local and national events, but run the meetings in an appropriate, ethical and legal manner. We all owe them a big thank you. 


I know there is another train of thought that believes that the best way to stay out of trouble while keeping their workload manageable is not responding to trade references and refer the inquirer to their local affiliate or another trade reporting service like D+B or Experian. That is definitely an alternative but I would miss the personal interaction with other credit professionals.


My whole thought here is that at any time, anywhere when you feel uncomfortable about what is being asked or what is being discussed, speak up—you are the only one who can protect yourself and keep yourself out of trouble, the ultimate goal.


Finally, my sincerest congratulations go out to all the recipients of our scholarships to the Western Region Credit Conference. I will seek each of you out at the Western Region Credit Conference and personally congratulate you and make sure you are getting full benefit of everything that is being offered.


As for the rest of you, had you “found the money”? If not, you should still register for the conference and reserve your rooms as time is starting to run out. Check our website for deadlines and other important information.


Until our paths cross again (hopefully at the Western Region Credit Conference), good collections, good vibes and good thoughts.