Jake Barron takes us on a journey of his experience taking the International Credit Risk and Management Course.
CICP Road Diary: Entry #1
Thursday, March 17, 2011 by CICP NACM
It's been just short of two weeks since my last entry here, and let me freely admit that although I've spent much of that time catching up on my CICP modules, I still remain a tad behind on the program.
In addition to offering a layman's perspective into the nuts and bolts of the CICP program and what it requires of its pupils, this series will also, in all likelihood, give you a glimpse into the production schedule of Business Credit magazine since, when I'm not working through my CICP modules and learning to calculate ratios for the first time in who knows how long, I'll be working on articles for that publication, or for eNews, or working on advocacy initiatives as they come up.
Currently, I've been at work on a feature article for the April 2011 issue, one that has occupied much of my time and will focus on customer relationships between sellers and buyers in countries facing political turmoil. I got the idea from watching the ongoing revolts and uprisings in Libya and Bahrain and the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region. While time spent researching and interviewing isn't exactly time spent going through the class, in a way, even as I worked through the CICP modules, I felt like I was helping my article, since certain class topics (especially those on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)) seemed to speak directly to what I was writing about.
Also, in the process of writing the article, I've spoken to other credit professionals, ones with business ties to the Middle East and North Africa, and it's remarkable how similar the things they've said are to the things the CICP course says. It's never been clearer to me that the class was created by people who manage risk, and have managed risk, successfully, everyday, in some of the least hospitable places on the planet. Each has reinforced the other for me; the quotes I've gotten from credit professionals seem stronger when they're nearly identical to things included in the course, and the things in the course seem more applicable when they're echoed by other credit professionals. In any case, we've reached the break week that comes in the middle of every CICP course, which will allow students like myself to catch up and poke through the discussion boards to see what everyone's been talking about. I've been doing that on and off since I began the course, but I've mainly been focusing on getting through the modules, and getting up to speed. I'm looking forward to seeing all the good conversations I've missed, and hoping not to miss any in the second half of the course, which officially begins next week.
Thursday, March 17, 2011 by CICP NACM
I know I've said a lot about how behind I am, and how my other professional obligations have gotten in the way, but I hope that doesn't fool you into thinking that this is too much for a professional to handle. Firstly, if I may make a suggestion, don't start the CICP program when you're on vacation in Mexico. I can't stress that enough. I know it's lovely down there, but try not to.
However, if you do that, like I did, and end up behind your classmates, the most important thing is not to let that convince you that the course can't be completed. The CICP program seems to have been designed with the knowledge that it's inevitable that some people will fall behind, whether due to a sudden influx of increased work responsibilities or ill-timed vacations or anything else you can think of. Things can seem a little daunting, sure, and it's hard work, but as long as you make the time to go through it, and work out an efficient studying procedure, it'll all work out. I'm going to complete it. I'm sure of it, and I'm sure you can complete it too.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #2
Thursday, March 17, 2011 by CICP NACM
"Neutral, relative and necessary."
If you read those three words out loud, dramatically and in a deep voice, they could almost sound like the tagline to a new political thriller or legal drama, possibly one that takes place in Switzerland, or during an especially captivating arbitration proceeding. I don't think such a film exists, but rest assured that if it gets made in the next few years, I'll be suing whoever made it.
In any case, those three words are culled directly from a lesson in the CICP course. At the beginning and end of every module, and sometimes at the beginning or end of a lesson (modules are the big chapters, and they're divided into lessons), the instructor offers some valuable, broader, more philosophical tips and summaries, and this one caught my eye. The thing that the course says is neutral, relative and necessary is risk. Whether it's political, financial, documentary, or interest rate-, acceptance- or foreign exchange-related, risk is a neutral, relative necessity in the world of commercial credit.
Now, this may be something that all credit professionals keep in mind at all times, but it still struck me as a remarkably powerful assessment of what risk is. I've written article after article about how to mitigate risk and reduce it, treating risk like it's a bad thing; the enemy of commercial credit extension, both domestic and international.
This is hardly the case though, and while I still stand behind those articles I wrote and believe risk mitigation is something that creditors do on a daily basis, it's important to remember that risk just...is. It's not an enemy or a friend, nor is it something to be combated or cultivated, it just...is. I'd imagine that recognizing this fact, that risk is something a credit department lives with, but can't do without, is one of the first steps toward becoming a great risk manager, and looking at it this way certainly affected the way I viewed the credit function as a whole. Credit departments and credit professionals aren't meant to eliminate risk, they're meant to make it manageable, and profitable, to be comfortable with something that's, by definition, kind of uncomfortable.
The idea that risk is "neutral, relative and necessary" speaks to credit's role not just as a financial buffer, but as a revenue generator. Another line I wrote down from the course, not from the same lesson, I don't think, is that credit should be viewed as "an investment in receivables." An extension of credit isn't just giving someone something for free and then hoping they pay back, it's an investment in the company and the company's future. I've probably written as many articles on risk mitigation as I have on credit's reputation as "sales prevention," which is something the CICP course recognizes and addresses with thoughts like this. Risk as a necessary constant, and credit is an investment.
Just something that struck me I guess. Back to work now. For those of you keeping track, I'm almost caught up, and should be 100% before week's end.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #3 – A Word on Workload
Monday, March 28, 2011 by CICP NACM
Now that I’m more than half-way through the CICP course, it’s as good a time as any to describe the course’s workload.
I mean, that’s probably why a lot of you are reading this, and while I’d love to be amazingly insightful and break things down for you here on a mind-blowingly practical, real world level, the truth is that the course time estimate is already available on FCIB’s website, and, perhaps more importantly, the estimate is among the most accurate things ever stated on the internet.
That might sound like hyperbole, but seriously, the estimate given is 5-7 hours per week, and that’s almost exactly how much time I’ve spent on each module. From every angle, with almost every mitigating factor included, that’s how long it will take you each week to stay on track.
I came into the course, as I noted in my introduction, about 5 years removed from college. I had to relearn how to be a student, sure, but I figured that I could still get back into the swing of things quickly and make short work of the material. And the fact of the matter is that I did get back in the swing of things. I’m working almost as well as I did back in senior year, when I was a seasoned collegiate professional…and it still takes me 5 to 7 hours. Needless to say, the estimate was obviously made by someone who’s taken the CICP course before, apparently while someone timed them with a stopwatch.
Modules do vary in size and length, but still, 5 hours is probably the minimum time requirement, unless you blow through everything without looking at it, which I think everyone would recommend against. Module 1 is among the shortest, so you’ll go through it fairly fast, and then since there’s no post-Module test, you’ll feel like you just took the first step on the road to the easiest credentials of your life.
Then the rest of the Modules arrive, post-tests and all, and you realize that you were sorely mistaken. Again, it’s not overwhelming, I wouldn’t say, but don’t think that just because the first Module is short and exam-less, that the rest of them will be the same. I may have made that mistake, so don’t do like I did.
Another mistake I made is that I didn’t take a look at the index ahead of time. Oh the index, how helpful art thou; this is the part of the course that lays out all of the Modules and all of the lessons (the differences of which can be found here) in an easy to read outline, and I visit it all the time. It’s my yard stick, and my guide, and if I can give one piece of advice, it’s to look at this at the very beginning, and be prepared for the longer Modules. There are a few, and I’d imagine that knowing they’re there is better than ambling through the course blindfolded like I did (for the first half, at least).
The mitigating factor here is that, as I also said in my introduction, I am not a credit manager. I’ve had to spend a little extra time looking up terms that many of you probably rely on every day, or at least know the meaning of. While I’m spending time hunting for a good example usage of the word “obligor,” you could be clicking your way on to the next section, so that’s an important factor to remember here.
Nonetheless, that 5-7 hour weekly estimate is spot on, and should be held as both an expectation of what you’ll have to do, and a good goal for how long to immerse yourself in the material, once you’re in the course. You could probably speed through the modules in less than 5 hours, but you’d probably be missing out on a lot of valuable dialogue, added practical knowledge and the little specifics that make this whole thing a lot more worthwhile.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #4 – Two Sides to Every Story
Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by CICP NACM
This could just be me, and my uninitiated self, but in my experience with credit, credit managers, financial management professionals, financial management, and what have you, it always seemed like these things, and these people, were separate from banking, or bankers.
The word “silo” comes to mind.
This was a word that, before I began working here at NACM, I associated only with farming. All of the sudden I heard it used to describe the divisions of responsibility in a corporate entity, or the separation of who does what within a department or a sales organization or anything similar.
The term itself connotes a sense of isolation, or almost loneliness, and while I didn’t realize it at first, was more often than not being used negatively. The idea that credit professionals should stay focused on their credit “silo,” wasn’t sustainable anymore, and probably hadn’t been for quite a while. Understanding the needs of sales, marketing, treasury, and everyone else was, and still is, a necessity.
To tie this back to the CICP course, and to that opening paragraph up there, I always looked at business and banks as two separate silos. Larger ones than those of credit, or sales, or marketing, or collections, or any others you care to name, but still their own unique, unattached worlds. The CICP course has changed that for me.
It could be different in domestic credit, but in international transactions, banks and their corporate customers seem to be very closely twined together. The course tips its hat to this fact by giving students a rundown of the process of international credit and risk management at a seller, as well as the process of international credit and risk management at a bank. You’re getting both sides here, rather than just the knowledge that you’d need to equip you to manage risk on only one of the two sides; banking or business.
It took me a couple modules to really catch it, but I think much of the course involves recognizing that credit management at a bank is different than credit management at a seller, then keeping your eyes peeled for the more subtle, important ways where these two things overlap. While I have no professional experience with this, I’d bet money that being aware of these items, the similarities and the differences, would help a banker better understand their corporate customer and a corporate customer better understand their banker. And that sounds pretty win-win for everyone there.
In any case, I was not expecting that from the course, at the onset, although maybe I should have. A one-sided look at the international risk management function probably wouldn’t yield results nearly as interesting as the ones I’ve found here.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #5 – Two Sides to Every Story…Again
Friday, April 8, 2011 by CICP NACM
If I had waited a day, and worked my way through another module before cranking out CICP Road Diary #4, I could’ve done a massive, convoluted blog entry about how this course goes into the nature of transactions from both sides, and then goes into both sides of those both sides. Whoa.
Confused yet? I know I am. Probably best then that I just wrote the last entry when I did, rather than waiting and corralling it all into one, long, plot-twisting explanation.
For those who are new or who didn’t click that link up there, in my last entry, I talked about how the CICP course will take you through both the elements of international credit and risk management at a bank, and international credit and risk management at a seller’s company. That was really only part of it though. I just got to Module 10 (fell back behind again, due to a presentation on the Credit Managers’ Index (CMI), which, hey, have you heard about it? It’s awesome) and I’m reading about financing international trade from the importer’s perspective, which is to say the buyer’s perspective.
Banks, sellers, and now buyers, the triumvirate of international business, all of them here, thoroughly discussed and analyzed.
It sometimes seems like I forget that buyers exist, which, in fairness to me, kind of makes sense. NACM is here to help people extend commercial credit, which is a function of selling really. But I may be guilty of dividing sellers and buyers up as though they were always two separate and unrelated entities. It’s probably news to no one but myself that, hey, sellers need to buy things too, and buyers need to sell things too. Pretty basic stuff here, but it’s easy, when focused on the process of credit extension, to forget that the buyer isn’t just the person who’s either going to pay you or not, they’re a person and a business, trying to make it just like you are. They have to do what’s best for them, as do we all.
The only way I can even remember addressing the plight of the importer, or buyer, is a long time ago when I mentioned in an article how sellers can sort of coach their customers into being a successful business (and by extension, an excellent customer). They can help them get organized and help them find sources for new sales and new markets (if they have the resources to do so). It’s a noble goal; it helps establish the business relationship and enhances the chance of prompt payment and if a seller can coach its customer into growth, hopefully that customer will turn around and need even more product.
I probably didn’t include this in the article, but, internationally speaking, this kind of win-win scenario seems like it would be much easier if you understand terms and financing from the importer’s perspective; what they’re looking for and what they want, as opposed to what you’re really willing to give. Trade financing is an especially interesting point because both buyers and sellers need it, but they often have different reasons and (often very) different preferences about how this financing is administered.
I guess what I’m saying is that the CICP course will remind you that, as it is on the dance floor, so it is in business: it takes two to tango.
And possibly three to tango, if you count the bank.
Okay, it takes more than one to tango. I think that’s a fair compromise.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #6 – Nearing the End
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 by CICP NACM
Well, the end of the course is in sight.
I plan on blogging for at least the next few weeks, as I prepare to take the CICP exam, and also hob-knob with other current CICPs at next week’s International Credit Executives (I.C.E.) Conference. I’d like to take this opportunity though to just go ahead and give myself, and everybody else who’s taking the course, has taken the course, or will take the course, a giant pat on the back.
This is a little premature, as I could fail the CICP test miserably, in which case all of these blog entries would be mysteriously deleted, and filed away until next season, when I’ll try again and act like this never happened, but still, I think the course is more of an accomplishment than people might think it is before they’ve taken it.
I thought about it, and at first, I might’ve believed the same thing; that an online course, while certainly convenient, wouldn’t carry the same rewarding feeling that comes from attending and completing a regularly scheduled class in person. I was wrong though. Even though I’m about to go through the last two modules (on credit insurance and the future of international credit and risk management), pressed right up to the deadline for doing so (Sunday is the last day, I believe), I feel like I’ve actually been a part of something, and it’s a pretty good feeling.
Sure there are many things I wish I had been better about, but I’ll detail those in a later post, when I’ve had a chance to collect my thoughts and see what an international conference is like after you’ve taken the course. Right now, I’d just like to go ahead and selfishly congratulate myself. Then, and perhaps more importantly, I’d like to unselfishly congratulate everyone else in the course, or anyone who’s ever taken the course. Finally, I’d like to congratulate everyone else who will take the course. You’ve earned it, hypothetical, future students.
As far as workload is concerned, the last portions of the course are pretty reading-heavy, which is good. There are some interesting white papers that are tailored to this current edition of the course. They’ll be different when you take it, but that’s the point I suppose. The course, even in its very nuts and bolts, is doing its best to stay cutting edge. It does so pretty successfully I might add.
See you all in Chicago! Who’s going?
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #7 – Live From the I.C.E. Conference
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by CICP NACM
Well, technically, I’m not writing this “live” from the I.C.E. Conference. That title just sounded better than “Live, Several Hours After Returning Home from the I.C.E. Conference.”
In any case, after a rainy, mildly bumpy flight back to Baltimore, I returned from the International Credit Executives (I.C.E.) Conference, the first iteration of such an event that I’ve attended after fully completing my CICP course requirements, save the test. That’s right, I’m all done the course, although I had a mini-panic attack as I left for the Conference last week that there was something I had missed. There wasn’t, and now, all that’s left is the test.
The conference, I’d say, was an unqualified success. Lots of new faces as far as I could tell, and a lot of very intelligent people talking very intelligently about very intelligent things. One of the best parts was checking people’s name badges and recognizing their names from the CICP comment boards and group discussion pages. It made for some sudden, “hey, I know you!” moments, but they were all in good fun. I got to chat with them and now have even more of an incentive to dig back through the discussions, since now I have faces to go with names.
Just being able to kind of exchange with people whose expertise is head and shoulders above mine was pretty invigorating, and I think I have the CICP course to thank for that. Sometimes, when I cover a conference, if something comes up that I don’t really understand, I’ll make sure I get the whole quote, then look up what I didn’t get later on. That didn’t really happen that often this time around; every issue that was discussed was also covered, both practically and conceptually, in the course. I’m not saying in any way that I stacked up with my fellow attendees in terms of credit and risk management ability, but I could hang with them in a conversation, and even say something insightful from time to time, which is a good feeling.
I even asked a question during one of the forums, which is big for me. I never do that.
Anyway, the panel discussions were thorough and largely question-and-answer based, which was great. Brazil seems to be the new Venezuela, in as far as it now holds the title of “most-discussed country” at FCIB events, a title that belonged to Venezuela for several years, I think. With Brazil, the chatter is more positive though (how could it not be?). With Venezuela, it was a list of lamentations and complaints about Hugo Chàvez, which were always interesting, but redundant after a while. Nice to see a new face take the top spot.
Look for more coverage in eNews and in Business Credit magazine too (with pictures there). Hope everyone who attended had a similarly pleasant time. I’ll be back later after I go studying for the test, which I’m thinking I’ll take next week, if I can handle it.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #8 – Studying
Thursday, April 28, 2011 by CICP NACM
Sure, this whole CICP course thing has been cool, but where in the course material does it say anything about having to take a test? Riddle me that, hmm?
Oh wait, it’s right there. Page one. Well that was clumsy of me.
Yes, I’m only kidding. I’ve been fully aware of the test’s looming presence throughout my time spent wending my way through each module and each post-test. Luckily, star professor Paul Beretz has done a fine job giving us the hints we’ll need to study properly, hints that I’ve relied on heavily in my own review efforts.
This isn’t to say that he’s given us the answers. He hasn’t, and I would imagine that him doing so would defeat the purpose of a test, but what we do have is an idea of what the test will look like and what to focus on when studying ahead of time.
It’s an open book test, and I can still remember a time during my educational career when that meant “barely even a test at all,” but, in the case of the CICP, the number of questions, the type of questions, and the sheer volume of material makes it an open-book test in name only. Sure, when I take it, next week (the last possible week in which to take it), I’ll have access to all the materials I’ve pored over numerous times before (via the internet), but that’s a lot of text people, something like hundreds of pages if I decided to go whatever the opposite of green is and print everything out for my own use. I’ll have to know things off the top of my head, or I won’t get everything done in time.
Speaking of time, I’ll have four hours to answer 100 multiple choice questions and 20 short answer questions. Apparently, the short answers should be really short. Paul has noted that simply writing more won’t get you a better grade on these questions, so it’s best to keep them brief so you have time to answer all of the questions. Coming from my point of view, in the world of professional writing, this is somewhat difficult to accept. In the world of professional writing, length equals credibility. If you can’t write a good article, at least write a really long one, right? I’m hoping I can buck the writer in me and aim for brevity when I take the exam.
Ok I was only kidding there too, but still, it’ll be important to remember that I have many other questions to answer when I’m working on the short answer ones. Typically, in the short answer, discussion questions in the post-tests, I’ve taken the time to indulge my own musings on whatever it is the question is asking for. I can’t do that in the test.
In any case, I’m going through the modules one by one now, stopping at the summaries and especially the post-tests for some extra review. I’ll probably check in once more before actually taking the exam, and then once again after, but if I don’t see you before I dive in, head first to the 4-hour CICP test, be sure to wish me luck.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #9 – Pre-Test Jitters
Thursday, May 5, 2011 by CICP NACM
So, as savvy readers will note, the title of this blog post implies that I have not taken the CICP test yet.
The reason for this is because I haven’t.
My original plan was to sit and do it on Wednesday, which is to say, yesterday, but as it’s sort of a busy week for the magazine, time for studying, and especially for testing, was scarce. Such is life, but now I plan to take the test tomorrow afternoon, allotting for some studying time beforehand. This is, in some ways, exactly the type of last-minute test-taking procedure that I wanted to avoid, but it largely wasn’t up to me, I’d say, so I’ll make due, but I’m still a tad nervous.
If anything, though, you can look at this as a last minute reminder that while the CICP course deserves as much of your attention as you can muster, you more than likely won’t be capable of offering 100% of your focus, 100% of the time. Important to remember, I’d say, and important to not let it stress you out too.
I’ve studied a bit already, going through the post-tests, as previously mentioned, as well as some of the more complicated things that I, quite literally, had zero experience with before joining the course. I knew very little about theories behind bad debt allowances before taking the class, so that got another run-through. I also was a novice when it came to foreign exchange practices too, so that also got another look.
Through the process of studying, I’m also sort of memorizing the course’s geography, which isn’t exactly the point, I’ll admit, but could come in handy when taking the actual test. The point of the CICP designation isn’t to signify that the holder can tell you what module came after the Structured Trade Finance module (it’s the Monitoring Trade Loans module) or what module covered pre-export and post-export financing (that would be Cash and Treasury Management: Part Two). It’s to signify the holder’s excellence and expertise in the field of international credit management.
Still, I want to do well, and since it’s an open-book test, I want to spend at least a little bit of time familiarizing myself with the table of contents. Not doing so could eat up some of those precious 255 minutes that I’ll have to complete the test’s 100 multiple choice and 20 short answer questions (in my last post I said I’d have four hours to take the test, but that’s slightly inaccurate; I’ll actually have four hours and 15 minutes).
I should get back to the books though. By this time tomorrow, I’ll either be a proud new CICP, scrounging for an extra $100 in order to schedule a re-test, or, you know, still taking it. That last one’s probably the most likely option, unless I can somehow speed through the test at 4 questions a minute.
Whatever happens, I’ll catch you all on the flip-side.
Till next time,
CICP Road Diary: Entry #10 – Did He Pass, or Didn’t He?
Monday, May 9, 2011 by CICP NACM
I thought long and hard about how best to title this entry, it being the final one in my CICP road diary experiment. I wondered, “how best can I extend the audience’s breathless suspense, with which I’m sure everyone will read this entry?”
The answer, of course, is to make you all wait till the end to see whether I actually passed. Of course, with the advent of computer scrolling technology, you could just poke your head down there to find out what you want to know, but that wouldn’t be very sporting of you, would it?
In any case, I took the test last Friday, submitting it around 7pm, with maybe 30 seconds to spare. When they say it takes 4 hours and 15 minutes, they’re not fooling around. It might take you less time, and if that’s the case, then you probably lack the neurotic attention to detail that has been both the blessing and curse of my personality for the last 26 years, and I envy you. Really, I probably took the test twice, going through it once, then through it again (albeit at a quicker pace) to make sure everything had an answer, and a correct answer at that.
One thing that I anticipated going into the test (something that seems silly looking back) was that the multiple choice questions and the short answer questions would be separate. I expected to have to plow through 100 multiple choice questions before ever even encountering a comment box. Alas, the essays are interspersed throughout the test, in the order the material was presented, which was helpful in some ways and challenging in others. Once you get in a groove answering multiple choice questions, you might want to stay in that groove, so to have to start thinking more critically, and to be forced to answer a question using your own words, rather than just A, B, C, and D, can present something of a hurdle, one that could throw you off and cost you precious seconds.
So, rather than adjust to this new format of sporadic short answer questions, I went through, answering all the multiple choice ones first then working back through the essays. It just felt more comfortable that way, and you can go back and forth in the test, skipping questions that you don’t know in order to come back to them later, so I figured that would be best, rather than changing my approach on the fly.
Studying the post-tests was definitely the most helpful portion of my review regime. Some of the questions are similar, and even if they aren’t, they all are similar in format, organization and subject depth, so it prepares you for how the questions themselves will be phrased, which is helpful.
Having taken the test on a Friday, I figured I would go home, try not to think about it for the weekend, and then check my score when I got in on Monday. My curiosity got the better of me though, and on Saturday afternoon I logged into my work email account to see if anything had arrived. I honestly didn’t expect an answer, but, sure enough, Professor Paul Beretz had already sent me my results (which are only pass/fail; they don’t give you the actual percentages or anything).
In any case, I passed. I’m officially a CICP.
Since I’ve reached the end of this particular road, this entry will mark the end of my road diary efforts, and I hope it’s provided any prospective students with some hints about what they’re getting into, and what the course actually entails. If nothing else, I hope it’s at least been entertaining. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Special thanks too to Paul and the FCIB gang, without whom the course, and this diary, would not have been able to exist.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be at my desk, using a pen to crudely scribble “CICP” onto every single one of my business cards.
Till next time,
~Jacob Barron, CICP