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Credit's Role Expands at 2012 FCIB I.C.E. Conference

A common theme that emerged in nearly every session at this year's FCIB International Credit Executives (I.C.E.) conference was the ever-expanding role of the credit department. From assessing risk beyond accounts receivable, to implementing bold new productivity enhancements, credit professionals seem to be asserting themselves into numerous other functions of their companies, and presenter after presenter at the conference seemed to prove it.

Held from May 2-4 this year at the luxurious Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I.C.E. offered attendees the chance to hear cutting edge, in-depth economic presentations from an elite set of presenters, along with worthy insights from professionals that shared their day-to-day responsibilities and concerns. Chief among the presentations that focused on the mutual exchange of practices between credit professionals was a productivity enhancement roundtable, moderated by honorary life member of FCIB David Marsh, CICE, CBF.

The session offered four individual credit professionals a chance to discuss specific changes they made to increase productivity in both their departments and their companies. Susan Fattore, ICCE, corporate credit manager at Heico Companies, talked about consolidating her company's 20-plus accounts receivable operating systems. After six to eight months of preparation and three years of implementation, Fattore noted that the single system now in effect improved efficiency for her and credit staff at Heico's numerous other entities. "There's no human error and it promotes better communication among the credit managers because they know which of them share the same customers," she noted. "It gives users access to information that they didn't have prior to the system."

Kelly Bates, FCIB vice chairman and director of global credit & collections at Chiquita Brands, Inc., talked about her efforts to shift her company's global credit function to a North American headquarters. Inconsistency among credit and collection practices drove Bates to push for a more centralized credit function. "At first it was rejected, but I think it was a process of elimination," she noted. "It evolved into the right decision." Now, Bates noted "our best practices were tweaked into global policies and procedures. The reporting structures are consistent and everything is managed out of our department."

Implementing a new, similarly consistent bolt-on system that focused on collections was the focus of Larry Durrant, CCE, ICCE of UPM Kymmene, Inc.'s presentation. "We had so many systems and so many practices that we needed standardize," said Durrant, noting that choosing the right system for the company was an intensive process that involved the IT, credit risk management and purchasing departments. Nonetheless, the results have offered a great deal of user flexibility. "They can pull their statements any time they want, they can track their orders and they can get their invoices," he added. "They can view their account any time 24/7 and see what's paid and not paid."

Finally, Rick Hayes, ICCE, senior manager of worldwide credit & collections at Viskase Companies, Inc., recalled his experiences at a prior company eliminating redundancies in their order management process. "There was a trade credit operation and then there was a long-term customer financing operation, and the two were throwing a lot of data back and forth," said Hayes. "There was a lot of time spent looking at the same things." By bringing in new analysts, Hayes was able to reduce deductions, headcount and take the company, as he put it, to a point "where we're spending most of our time on fire prevention and much less time on fire fighting."

After that, attendees gathered for a networking dinner and reconvened the next morning for two especially relevant presentations, the first, a global economy forecast from NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, PhD, and the second, a "Doing Business in the BRICs" panel, this time moderated by Kuehl. Previous panelists Fattore and Hayes joined Luis Noriega, ICCE, vice president of JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., and Norman Zusevics, credit risk manager at Shure, Inc. in a lively, attendee-led discussion of selling concerns in these economically hot countries, as well as many others beyond the scope of the presentation's title.

Between the diversity of the program and the wealth of networking opportunities that punctuated each presentation, the 2012 I.C.E. conference served as a model growth tool for credit professionals, offering answers to attendees rather than just rehashing their problems.

For more information on FCIB's educational opportunities, visit www.fcibglobal.com. And don't forget to look for pictures from this year's I.C.E. conference in the upcoming June 2012 issue of Business Credit.

Jacob Barron, CICP, NACM staff writer