Risk & Compliance

SEC Details Compliance Flaws at Credit Raters

All three large credit rating agencies “had weaknesses concerning access to market-share and revenue data by personnel who participate in ratings."
Matthew HellerJanuary 5, 2015
SEC Details Compliance Flaws at Credit Raters

Half of the country’s 10 credit-rating services did not follow their policies and procedures in determining ratings and four showed weaknesses in how they manage conflicts of interest, according to a report by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In its fourth annual examination of credit rating agencies, the SEC’s Office of Credit Ratings said there were “several instances” in which one larger Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization and four smaller ones “did not apply their rating policies and procedures or did not apply or make required disclosures concerning their methodologies or criteria.”

The report doesn’t name specific companies, but identified Fitch, Moody’s and S&P as larger debt raters and A.M. Best, DBRS, Egan-Jones Ratings, HR Ratings de México, Japan Credit Rating Agency, Kroll Bond Rating Agency and Morningstar as smaller ones.

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According to the SEC, a substantial number of rating actions at one of the smaller companies “did not adhere to certain policies and procedures concerning disclosure of methodologies applied to ratings, conducting timely surveillance or implementation of issuer-requested edits to rating releases.”

Another smaller NRSRO assigned a surveillance rating that did not appear to reflect its internal analysis of the debt issuer, the SEC said.

As far as conflicts of interest, the SEC found that all three larger NRSROs and one smaller company “had weaknesses concerning access to market-share and revenue information by certain personnel who participate in ratings and criteria development activities.”

At one of the larger firms, the report says, business personnel “engaged in a concerted effort to address concerns raised by a trade association about this NRSRO’s contemplated revisions to the criteria report” and the report was changed in a way that was “advantageous” to the association.

The report also documents problems at another large rater where the chief credit officer and other credit officers reviewed non-public information concerning its revenue, financial performance and market share even though its policies and procedures prohibit credit officers from accessing such information.

A spokesman for S&P told Bloomberg that the firm continues to “make significant investments to enhance our training, quality, criteria, compliance and risk management functions.”

The SEC reviews debt rater compliance as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

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