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ations of credit men for the purpose of making more uniform the basis upon which credit rests; to demand a change of laws unfavorable to honest debtors; and the enactment of laws beneficial to commerce in the several States; to improve methods of diffusing information and of gathering data with respect to credits, to improve business customs; and to provide a fund for the protection of members against injustice and fraud."
The membership was divided into two classes: (1) the organized membership, to consist of credit men representing individuals, firms or corporations, who may join through the medium of local associations; (2) the individual membership, to consist of credit men representing individuals, firms or corporations who may join the Association directly. The latter are from sections of the country where no local association exists. In communities where there are local associations affiliated with the National Association, the members of the local association represent it in the National Association. The organized membership thus includes the membership of all the local associations affiliated with the National Organization. At the Toledo meeting in 1896 is was estimated that the volume of trade represented by those present amounted to $213,000,000. The growth of the Association is indicated from the following facts. The organized membership in 1900 was 2,511, while the individual membership was 490, making a total of 3,001. This was an increase of 465 over the membership of the previous year. On the first of June, 1904, the organized membership was 4,528, and the individual 799, making a total of 5,327* On the first of June, 1905, the organized membership was 5,085 and the individual 976, making a total of 6,060, or an increase of 557 organized and 177 of the individual membership over that of the preceding year. In June, 1906, there were 52 local associations which were affiliated with branches of the National Organization. Every section of the country is represented.
The Association meets annually and the work is carried on chiefly by committees.
The scope of the work is indicated by the names of the standing committees: Membership Committee, Legislative Committee, Business Literature, Committee on Improvement of Mercantile Agency Service, Committee on Credit Department Methods, Committee on Credit Coöperation, Committee on Investigation and Prosecution, and Committee on Fire Insurance. The last committee was organized recently.
* Monthly Bulletin of the National Association of Credit Men, July, 1905, p. 24.
From the outset the National Association and the local associations undertook the same kind of work. The interchange of information in regard to credit, to make credit men more intelligent, and to improve legislation in the interest of credit men were the early objects sought. Gradually plans were devised to place the organization on a broader basis and new standing committees were organized. Some of the local associations saw that their effectiveness could be increased and enthusiasm for them would be promoted by their undertaking practical work such as the organization of bureaus for the exchange of credit information and adjustment bureaus. The National Association has come to see that it must be organized on a broader plan, and as a recent president of its organization has said, “it must stand for the general improvement of credit conditions, act as a cement force between the various local organizations, be devoted to the ethical phases of credit, and act as an educational center of economic problems." * While its work and that of the local associations overlap somewhat at present, the tendency is for each local association to undertake the decidedly practical work and to consider the problems of credit peculiar to its locality. The National Association is limiting itself more and more to the general problems of credit and is supplementing and coördinating the work of the local associations and is coöperating with them on general problems such as those of legislation. There is yet a Committee of the National Association on Investigation and Prosecution, but its experience seems to demonstrate that this sort of work can be better conducted by local associations where they exist. Here as elsewhere the National Association finds its chief efficiency in securing the coöperation of the various local bureaus rather than in undertaking this sort of work itself.
The most effective committees have been those on Improvement of Mercantile Agency Service, Committee on Credit Department Methods, and the Legislative Committee.
From the outset the credit men manifested a desire to coöperate with the agencies in inducing merchants to make better reports. The National Association from the beginning *F. W. Standart, Monthly Bulletin of the Nat. Assn. of Credit Men, January, 1905. P. 7. considered as one of its chief topics the inadequacy of the agency reports, and at some of the earlier meetings representatives of the Dun and Bradstreet agencies were present to defend their methods. It was urged that signed statements should be secured from the merchant in all instances when possible, and if the latter refused and the information had to be secured otherwise, this fact ought to be so indicated in the report of the agency. It was claimed that agencies ought to have efficient reportorial staffs who were experts in dealing with business men and in reporting business conditions; that a search of records ought to be made in every instance, and that no indefinite reports should be given; that all ratings should be revised at least every six months, and that new information should be furnished promptly on request; that all statements should be carefully tabulated. It was urged that a large number of the reports were written by men in various communities, usually by lawyers, who relied largely on hearsay evidence, and that the reports in no way indicated the sources of information. It was claimed that especially in country districts reports were inaccurate and special reports were received tardily. In all cases where a regular reportorial staff was collecting information it was claimed to consist frequently of an inferior set of men, and that much of the antipathy of business men for the agencies and the inadequacy of information was due to a lack of tact and diplomacy in the reports of the agencies.
The agencies looked upon the claims of the credit men as ideal and visionary. The latter were informed that the carrying out of the recommendations suggested would involve a very great expense, and that the receipts of the agencies would not warrant the undertaking of the improvement suggested.
The agitation in favor of a higher standard had an immediate effect in improving the efficiency of the agencies. The president of the Bradstreet Agency claimed that in 1898 his company expended $150,000 more than in former years in improving the service, and it was said that extra expenses were incurred by the Dun Agency for the same purpose. The reports were better arranged, more promptly rendered, and were secured by a more efficient set of men.
For five years the Mercantile Agency Committee compiled statistics on the comparative efficiency of the Dun and Bradstreet companies covering in general the following points: (1) Average time between asking for reports and receiving them; (2) average age of the first report received; (3) percentage of reports containing signed statements not more than one year old; (4) the promptness of reporting changes; (5) arrangement and form; (6) classification of reports according to excellency by districts. These data were furnished by the local associations and the members of the National Association. When these facts were first published they at once showed the comparative efficiency of the two leading agencies and at once a vigorous rivalry was created. So long as no method exists to show definitely the comparative merits of rivals, vigorous competition will be lacking; while the fixing of a definite standard for determining superiority stimulates efforts to excel as nothing else can.
The credit men claim that the suggestions made to the mercantile agencies have received consideration and that the service of the agencies has improved in every way. The feature complained of most frequently at present is the lack of accuracy in the detailed reports. One of the resolutions presented at the 1905 meeting and passed unanimously was “That R. G. Dun & Co. and the Bradstreet Co. be requested to discontinue in their reports the expression, 'He is the reported owner of real estate,' etc. The ownership of real property is a matter not of supposition but of fact, and easily determined ; and we have a right to expect that they will search the county records and establish the facts as to whether the real estate referred to stands of record in the name of the reputed owner or some one else.” This resolution indicates the feeling of the credit 'men regarding certain classes of the reports of mercantile agencies.
The Mercantile Agency Committee has endeavored to secure signed statements from merchants upon uniform blank sheets made out by them. To this end they have endeavored to prevail upon the agencies to use their signed statements, but so far their efforts have been unsuccessful. While the agencies have modified the form of the blanks formerly used, they have been unwilling to adopt those suggested by the credit men. As stated above the signed statement has many features to commend it. While statements rendered in writing may be inaccurate, they are as a rule much more truthful than verbal reports. The necessity of making a signed statement causes merchants to know their business more accurately and to keep better books. A signed statement has a legal significance. The merchant who makes a signed statement does so with a view to secure credit. If this statement is manifestly false, his offense comes under the head of securing goods under false pretenses, and the offender is criminally liable. So in all cases where preferences are allowed and the bankrupt has made some signed statements, the advice of his attorney is invariably to take care of such creditors first.
It is well known that different localities have a different class of agency service. Everything depends on the efficiency of the man having charge of the territory. In some places the service cf one agency is far superior to that of the other, and in other localities the reverse is true. A resolution providing for the continuance of the investigation of the relative merits of the two agencies generally and also an investigation of localities where each is deficient was passed at the June meeting 1905.
As other private concerns the agencies are of course interested in profits, and this is kept in mind in the introduction of improvements in service. That the service rendered is not all that is desired by business houses is seen in the tendency of large wholesale and banking houses to employ experts whose exclusive duty it is to investigate customers' affairs and to study conditions which directly influence credits. In doing this they are reducing agency service and depending more and more on their own agents. In this development we see a return to conditions prior to the organization of the agency service. How far this tendency will go before the agencies will meet the demands made on them will remain to be seen.
The Committee on Credit Department Methods has labored í um the outset to secure the adoption of uniform inquiry blanks and statement blanks. At the first meeting forms were proposed and sent out to the various local associations to be topics for discussion at the meetings in 1897. Forms were adopted at the convention of 1898 which provided for giving the creditor a clear idea of the standing of debtors, and were sufficiently binding to make the debtor criminally liable in case of false statement. Both the uniform statement blanks and inquiry blanks are now generally used by houses when they seek to learn directly the standing of the establishments with which they deal. Much is gained in the adoption of a single form of report. Merchants are not confused by having different kinds of reports to make out,