An address at the AICM National President’s Gala Dinner
Parliament House, Canberra
Thursday 12 October 2017

On this very special occasion it is appropriate that we spend a short time looking at the history of the Institute as we recognise and celebrate the success of the Institute in its 50th year since its national incorporation. In reality, it is 80 years ago since our precursor organisation, the Australian Institute of Credit Men, was formed.

An occasion such as this is a rare opportunity to recognise that we, the current members of the AICM are simply part of a much larger continuum of the work of the Institute.

On 1 June 1937 some 80 years ago, a group of like-minded “chaps” as they all were, got together in Hunter Street in Sydney and in accordance with the custom of the day, a very formal meeting was convened. Minutes were taken and we still have those as part of our records archive of our history.

A Mr J.H. Hawkins assumed, by popular proclaim it seems, chairmanship of the meeting and a motion was passed that:

“…the meeting had been called in conformity, with a general desire amongst Credit Men, that a body be established to (amongst other things) recognise and maintain the professional status of all those engaged in the control of credit…”

And so, it was agreed that there should be an Institute and the formal legal steps were taken for the incorporation in New South Wales of the “Institute of Credit Men” on 20 June 1937,

to recognise and maintain the professional status of all those engaged in credit”

In looking at that resolution, you can see the clear continuing objectives which are as much our agenda and our programmes today, as they were when our first predecessor organisation was formed.

Those simple guiding principles have been the constant theme of the focus of the work of the Institute throughout that 80 year period.

Much has changed in that time. The organisation was founded before the second world war, there have been advances in technology that would have been unthinkable, but the simple principle agenda of the Institute has remained consistent and true -  to educate and develop credit professionals.

And so, the Institute grew across Australia.

The Victorian chapter, at first actually a Division of the New South Wales organisation, was formed in 1940 but was disbanded in 1944 when the “Victorian Institute of Credit Men” was formed. That great state rivalry meant the Victorians were not willing to be ruled by NSW!

A Queensland chapter was also formed in 1940 but owing to the 1939 to 1945 second world war, it was effectively suspended in 1942. The South Australian Institute was incorporated in 1948 and subsequently the Queensland chapter was reformed and then followed quickly, the formation of state institutes in Western Australia and Tasmania.

New South Wales claimed the credit for taking the initiative in 1962 to organise the first “National Credit Convention” and issued invitations to all States to attend.

The States still guarded their independence and as such, the consensus was, that rather than merge the existing Institutes, they would instead form amongst themselves an overriding organisation called the “Commonwealth Association of Institutes of Credit Management” and so another organisation came into being.

Matters progressed until another National Conference was held in Melbourne in 1965, at which time it was unanimously resolved that a new National Institute would be formed.

It was thought advisable to create a new entity rather than use the existing “Commonwealth Association of Institutes of Credit Management” as this would prevent any feeling that the amalgamation was in reality, a takeover.

The history of the Institute is of course the story of its Divisions given that our organisation is a people organisation. It was who we knew in each of our Divisions, that shaped our understanding of what the AICM was and what it offered. Our experience of the Division was our experience of the AICM.

As we travel around more to different Divisions, it is clear that the AICM tone and flavour of training and networking events is surprisingly similar irrespective of where the meeting is held. You are always assured of a warm welcome and a cold refreshment.

Looking back through old magazines and reports, it has always been clear that the social networking side, the informal opportunities afforded by AICM events, have been at our core. The importance of a network often with a drink in hand, a group of people who you know that you can trust in confidence, that you can call upon, that will answer your questions and give you guidance, will share their experiences, those are the things that come from an old fashion network.

In a modern world, we have facebook, people tweet twitters, and these networks can play something of that role, but our challenge is to harness the “multiplier potential” that exists in these modern networks so that we can engender them with the same content and connection to the Institute.

Ultimately however, nothing quite beats a good chin wag with friends over a drink and the real business, professional, personal and friendship benefits of those engagements are the nourishment that has maintained so many people through their credit careers. 

There is a story for each Division to tell as its own history, of the businesses  and the people that came together.

It is the members and the volunteers who have supported and driven the Institute through its various phases. This is a common story across all of the Divisions and there are many people who you would call loyal stalwarts. They might have been Registrars of the earlier State based Institutes, Presidents who were in Office over key growth or policy phases or alternatively, long serving and dedicated members, some who never went near a Council portfolio (because they hate meetings!) but who could always be relied upon to show up, muster numbers, and be enthusiastic. Those loyal people lived and promoted the values of the Institute and encouraged others to do so.

Many other people have promoted and sustained the Institute more quietly in their own workplaces, promoted the ideals of the Institute in their roles as mentors. Most people here, especially those with longer careers in credit, can identify one or two key mentors across their working lives who have influenced them and to whom they are indebted. That is the ongoing work of the Institute and its members.

Over time, each Division has recognised some of those key contributing people by establishing awards in their Honour. In South Australia, we have the Laurie Ellis award, in Queensland the Marion Hintz award, the Bob Burns award, and the Les and Peg Crook award. In Victoria we have the Tony Mammone award for education.

While tonight does not allow me to tell too many stories, there are key contributors who must be recognised, especially given the broader role they played at a National level.

May I mention for example, Olive Rhodes, a long time South Australian Council member who in 1968 was the first female member to be elected to the Australian Council. Olive Rhodes, was always known forever in South Australia as Dusty Rhodes. She remained as a National Board member for a number of years.

Life member Betty Fleming, an inaugural member of the Northern Tasmanian Branch, retired from the National Board after a long period of service in 1998. Her story, told in the National magazine, shows 30 years of holding office in various capacities:- Branch President, Division President, National Director, indeed some of those roles were held at the same time, possibly unconstitutionally!

We also recognise tonight, here and present with us, a former National President, Mr Roger Penfound from 1994 and 1995 and also Carol Penfound/Pope who is another of the very few women who rose to serve on National Board as a Director. Together, their contribution in Victoria and Queensland is legendary.

I must also mention and acknowledge the role of Glenda Jeffries from Western Australia who, according to our records, is the only other female National Board member to have served.

While there has been a strong history of contribution and leadership from our female members, that is not recognised at the moment by their presence on the current National Board in that our current membership sits slightly weighted in favour of females. While we have currently 3 female Division Presidents, as many Vice Presidents and very strong female representation on all State Councils, there are currently no female National Board members. The Australian Institute of Company Directors has a gender diversity policy where the ASX top 200 have targeted for 30% of their Board members to be female. I can announce tonight that the National Board has as a policy initiative, which will probably need Constitutional change, to create extra National Board positions which can be directly filled via a nomination process so that we can proactively address the gender imbalance on Board. The Women in Credit programme is a more recent initiative recognising the role of women.

The Institute is currently stronger than ever. Our membership numbers are equal to those of 10 years ago. We have trading surpluses and now reach our members through our website, e-magazine and webinars which give us extended reach.

Our standing as the voice for the credit profession has never been louder in our advocacy role and we are regularly invited to make detailed written submissions about legislative reform in the ever complex legal arena of insolvency, privacy, Australian consumer law, Personal Property Security etc.

The Institute continues to recognise excellence in particular, by its Certification of Credit Executives, CCE’s, those people who through their experience and a formal assessment process are recognised as being people, irrespective of their age, who have attained the highest of technical professional skills.

The National Board has recently listed as a priority, the need to develop a program to engage more fully with those in the consumer credit space. The distinction between consumer and commercial used to simply be the name on the account but with consumer protection, fair trading, unfair contracts, privacy, ASIC debt collection guidelines and a raft of other legislation, the consumer space is now one of the most regulated areas of any form of commercial enterprise in Australia. That makes it an ideal and natural area for the Institute to bring the wealth of its experience, the courses and qualification materials we already have to hand, to promote those in the consumer market.

The Institute’s history has always been one of grappling with change whether it be changes in commercial life, the legal framework or the consequences of ever quickening technology. Younger members will be amazed to understand it was a relatively common experiences in the 70s and into the 80s where large pools of typists and account clerks would work, without the aid of computers or even calculators, often running manual card systems to keep track of accounts and credit records etc.

There was a day when marriage was death to a career as “Misss Jones from accounts would be leaving to get married”. That era seems so long ago now and as we know from current presentations at the Conference, the pace of change continues towards the previously unthinkable, an automated credit application!

Over the years the Institute’s management structure has changed and we note the key contributions made for example by the inaugural National Executive Director appointed in 1989, Les Wilson. That first National Office started a model which continues today. The State versus centralised management was in the past much of an issue, indeed at times a hot political and even legal matter. Things are different now and the support and capability afforded by a professional, permanent National Office enable Divisions in a way not previously possible.

The work of National was continued by long serving CEO Terry Collins appointed in October 2000 who oversaw a key phase of the Institute including the development of AICM Learning Services, a formally licensed and Commonwealth Government regulated Registered Training Organisation since 1998. The core offering of the Certificate and Diploma Courses run through the AICM continues to set the standard for the quality of our educational work and our credibility as the premier trainer for all credit things. It was during this era that Del Cseti made such contribution and was at the centre of so many projects and initiatives.

More recently, the Institute has embraced another era of review, change and refocus under the guidance and with the support of our current CEO, Nick Pilavidis. A degree qualified former credit manager and CPA, Nick’s own story is a journey through the AICM. From membership as a credit manager to being the National Young Credit Professional of the Year, to roles on NSW Division Council and National Board as treasurer, to ultimately become our CEO. The only thing he has not done is my job as National President! Nick continues to offer the Board innovation, enthusiasm and energy for new projects and initiatives and so the future of the Institute looks bright and we are ably led.

Nick has around him a committed team in our National office who work so hard to continue the delivery of events at Division level and national training, and of course to coordinate the grand highlight of the national credit year, our annual Conference. Our thanks go to them for their continued hard work and commitment to making the AICM the best. We recognise and thank Andrew Le Marchant, Debby Manners, Toni Sawyer, Amanda Borland, Wendy Liu and Karen Croft for their work in coordinating such a great Conference. We also recognise their contribution as loyal and enthusiastic supporters of the AICM.

In conclusion;

In July 1966 in the first edition of “The Australian Credit Manager” the first National magazine, the national inaugural President, Lionel Scott from NSW, wrote:
“It is my privilege to write the first article “from the President’s desk” for, the journal of the newly a constituted national organisation. Whatever mixed feelings I may have had when writing the last article (about the ending of the old organisation), the mixture on this occasion is one of pleasure and optimism that… in the foreseeable future, our Institute will proceed from strength to strength.

He went on to say “…let me look ahead. I am confident, to the day when the Institute, our Institute, assumes its rightful status as a force in the business life of Australia.

How rapidly, and how far, we progress will depend on each of us, on our ethics, our ability, our energy, our enthusiasm.”

Prophetic words from the first National President of the AICM, Lionel Scott.

While Lionel Scott is probably completely unknown to everyone here, it is entirely appropriate that we hear his words tonight.

He could not have imagined the dynamics and vibrancy of doing business today and the complex role of the modern credit professional. To the founding folk of 1937, this modern, computer, internet, interconnected, instantaneous world would be alien.

In 1966 at the formation of the organisation, there was a rally call to build on what had been before, to stay true to the values of the Institute and to contribute for the greater good.

At its core, that is what the Institute is about. A volunteer organisation whose aim is to support, foster, nurture, encourage and educate. In a busy and complex world where life is at break neck speed, the true values and purpose of the Institute ought not be forgotten.

Tonight we recognise all those people who have come before us and who are with us continuing the work of the Institute. We recognise the members, who have demonstrated their commitment to setting the professional standards in excellence in the discharge of their duties, to a professional and ethical approach in dealing with all people in our commercial lives.

There is much for the Institute to be proud of and as first National President, Lionel Scott, called upon the membership in 1966, we the current custodians call upon you all to engage with the Institute, to reach out to mentor and support peers and team members and young people building their careers, because the rewards of that investment and commitment are there for the taking.

Tonight we all have great pride in recognising our long history and that so much good work has been done by so many. In reality, cumulatively, tens of thousands of members over the years. We recognise them, thank them for their efforts and pledge our ongoing commitment to the ideals of the Institute.

May I ask you to please charge your glasses and be upstanding;
Ladies and gentleman, I give you a toast to the members of the AICM, past and present, I give you  “The Australian Institute of Credit Management”.

James Neate
National President, LICM CCE

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