Is Dunn & Bradstreet A Racket?

D&B is, of course, a great brand in American business. It has been around for 167 years and its name is part of the American business lexicon. So it’s hard to imagine that it would be anything but aboveboard. Yet I find the D&B business model deeply troubling. Here’s why.

A few years after I founded Advisor Products in 1996, I began paying D&B for its basic monitoring service. The monitoring service used to cost about $200 or $300 a year and gave me access to a range of ratings that D&B applied to assess Advisor Products financial strength.

D&B’s “Commercial Credit Score,” for instance, is designed to predict the likelihood that a company will pay its bills in a severely delinquent manner (90 days or more past terms), obtain legal relief from creditors, or cease operations without paying all creditors in full over the next 12 months. The “Financial Stress Score” is designed to help you predict a business's potential for failure. D&B's “Paydex Score” is a dollar-weighted indicator of how a firm paid its bills over the past year, based on trade experiences reported to D&B by various vendors. I’d also receive reports letting me know if a company was checking my D&B scores.

After subscribing to the web-based information service for several years, I dropped the monitoring service about five years ago. None of the financial institutions or advisory firms we worked with had ever mentioned our D&B scores to me or mentioned it was a factor in their due diligence on Advisor Products. So I figured I could live without it.

With months of letting the monitoring service expire, I started receiving calls from D&B sales representatives telling me that there was activity in my account. The voicemail messages left by D&B agents were carefully worded to lead me to believe that something could be wrong with my company’s credit score and that I should call them right away. When I called, the agents would try to sell me the monitoring service and offered little or no details about any unusual activity or inquiries that could negatively impact my company.

While I can be as paranoid as anyone, I refused to buy into what the agents told me because I knew our financial health was fine. Starting about five years ago, I ignored the voicemails indicating that my credit report required my attention. The frequency of voicemails diminished over the last few years, but every few months I still get one of those messages from a D&B agent. In fact, I just received one today.

“I’m giving you a call in regards to some activity occurring on the business credit report as well as several companies doing credit checks on Advisor Products,” the agent says.

I’ve ignored these calls for years now and my credit has been great. My bank line of credit was not reduced through the financial crisis, when liquidity dried up for a lot of small businesses. While American Express did reduce my huge credit lines at one point in 2008—something long overdue, quite frankly—ignoring the occasional voicemail messages from D&B seems to have had no impact whatsoever on my company’s credit.

I am wondering if other business owners have had the same experience as I did. Have you been getting these calls from D&B? Do you ignore them? Do you feel like D&B is little more than a protection racket aimed at frightening business people into subscribing to credit monitoring services they do not really need?

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