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Credit professionals can benefit in good times and bad.

It may be true that a rising tide--in the form of an expanding economy--lifts all boats. But credit professionals are in a unique position to benefit from both rising and sinking tides.

An improving business environment naturally bodes well for hiring in the field, as it does for numerous other job positions and industries. If companies remain optimistic about economic conditions and business expansion continues, business credit and financial professionals likely will see continued strong demand for their skills. In a growth economy, it becomes increasingly important for companies to tighten credit procedures to ensure the right accounts are on the books. Toward this end, professionals are needed to evaluate the nuances of new credit relationships, monitor ongoing risk factors affecting customer accounts, review credit thresholds and customize credit lines to client needs.

Even troublesome economic signs, such as customer cash flow problems that result in delayed or delinquent payments, often lead to increased hiring of credit and collections professionals as companies seek help researching account disputes and billing discrepancies, monitoring accounts receivable aging and managing collection efforts.

Hiring Outlook

Overall, career prospects for accounting and financial professionals remain bright. In general, starting salaries for these professionals are expected to increase an average of 3.1 percent in 2006, according to Robert Half International's 2006 Salary Guide. Pay increases for credit and collections professionals slightly lag the average, however, with small companies (defined as up to $25 million in sales) posting the largest percentage increase--an average of 2.9 percent for the three positions tracked by Robert Half (credit manager/supervisor, assistant credit manager and credit/collections clerk).

Shortages of skilled candidates in the accounting and financial fields are causing many employers to proactively readjust their pay structures and benefits plans to improve their ability to recruit and retain talented professionals. As a result, those with the most in-demand skills and experience may see higher-than-average pay increases. Obtaining certifications, such as the Certified Credit Executive (CCE), Credit Business Associate (CBA) and Credit Business Fellow (CBF), also enhances earning potential.

Companies not planning to offer higher raises or bonuses than they have in the past may want to reward employees in other ways, such as offering more flexible schedules, additional time off or enhanced opportunities for professional development.

Positions In Demand

Demand is strong for credit professionals at all levels. Companies seek individuals for managerial positions who have excellent leadership, analytical, negotiation and interpersonal skills. Good organizational skills and proficiency with Microsoft Office applications, especially Excel, are also essential for any credit/collections position.

Most companies require candidates for supervisory roles to have at least five years of credit and/or collections experience. Individuals with bachelor's degrees in accounting, finance or business administration are generally preferred. According to the Robert Half International 2006 Salary Guide, salaries for professionals in credit manager/supervisor positions range from $56,000 to $77,250 at large companies (more than $250 million in sales) to $38,250 to $49,250 at small companies (up to $25 million in sales).

Collections clerk positions can be entry-level, although many firms want to hire individuals with several years of experience. Excellent customer service and communication skills are key in these positions. It's also critical for those on the front lines of the collections effort to have a professional, confident demeanor and to be motivated and results-driven. In addition, more companies are seeking bilingual individuals for these jobs.

Salaries for credit/collections clerks range from $29,500 to $36,000 for those working in large companies to $25,000 to $31,250 for those at small companies, according to the Salary Guide.

Industry Hiring

The manufacturing, financial services and healthcare industries are among those expanding credit and collections staff. Hiring of credit professionals in the manufacturing industry may be a reflection of overall strength in that sector. Manufacturers seek professionals to create and maintain credit history files, assess financial exposure, set and monitor limits, perform payment reconciliations, identify delinquent accounts and manage collection efforts.

An improving economy and growing business confidence have enhanced demand for banking services and, in turn, fueled hiring within financial institutions. Residential and commercial lending are driving much of the industry's hiring activity.

Banks seek experienced commercial lenders, credit analysts and loan administrators who understand the special considerations involved in extending commercial credit. These professionals must be able to determine which borrowers are creditworthy and ensure clients submit proper documentation. As banks have become increasingly focused on risk management, they also have boosted hiring of credit risk executives to help ensure risks remain within acceptable parameters and that institutions comply with government regulations.

Hiring activity also is strong in the medical collections field. For these jobs, familiarity with medical terminology, insurance verification procedures and documentation requirements is essential. Medical offices need individuals in both supervisory and staff-level positions, and duties include pursuing government and commercial insurance collections, managing claims denials and supervising and motivating collections staff.

Emphasis On Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal and organizational skills are increasingly important for credit professionals across industries and at every level. Individuals in supervisory roles must interact with managers in other business areas to keep them informed of customer credit issues and provide key measures to senior management. These individuals must also communicate well with credit and collections staff and motivate them to enforce contractual terms with customers aggressively and consistently.

Professionals who focus on collections need excellent communication and negotiation skills and should be efficient multi-taskers, as they are typically expected to make high volumes of calls on a daily basis and document the outcome. In addition, those working in the commercial credit industry should be skilled at building relationships with customers and understanding their business.

Although the credit industry is highly sensitive to overall economic activity, well-rounded credit professionals should find continued employment opportunities along the credit and collections spectrum even if a downturn occurs. While factors such as a pullback in business expansion or rising interest rates could dampen demand for credit and, by extension, the need for professionals to manage front-end credit processes, they would likely fuel increased collections activity.

Max Messmer is chairman and CEO of Robert Half International Inc. (RHI), parent company of Robert Half[R] Finance & Accounting, Accountemps[R] and Robert Half[R] Management Resources. RHI is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a full-time, temporary and project basis. Mr. Messmer's most recent books are Motivating Employees For Dummies[R] and Managing Your Career For Dummies[R].
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Title Annotation:SELECTED * TOPIC
Author:Messmer, Max
Publication:Business Credit
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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