Microsoft got its credit risk management stress test when Circuit City approached insolvency just as the 2008 holiday season arrived. "We had to have our hardware and software on retailers' shelves for the holidays," says treasurer George Zinn. "The business expected it. But we could see Circuit City's credit quality vanishing. So we chose to sell our hardware on consignment. It was there on the shelves for shoppers right up until Circuit City closed its doors. Then we sent in our trucks to pick up our hardware. It was the ultimate compliment to our collections team that we didn't even make the creditors' committee."

The deep global recession is making the job of managing credit risk more difficult and more critical. Treasury and credit pros, suddenly in the spotlight, are buying more intelligence, running the credit and collections machinery in high gear and gingerly exploring what's left of the credit derivatives market. After years of relative obscurity, credit performance is now discussed at almost every board meeting, says Phil Gootee, president of Global Credit Services, a credit risk management firm in New York City.

"The line of visibility from the board through the CFO, treasurer and credit manager to the credit analyst is now clear," he notes.

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