SEC Issues Staff Summary Report of Examinations of Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations
The Securities and Exchange Commission today issued its second annual staff report on the findings of examinations of credit rating agencies registered with the SEC as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSROs). The staff determined that with one exception, all NRSROs appropriately addressed the staff's recommendations in the first annual report in 2011. In addition, the staff announced a new initiative to highlight compliance issues at credit rating agencies between examinations.
"The SEC's enhanced oversight of NRSROs is having a positive effect," said Thomas J. Butler, Director of the SEC's Office of Credit Ratings. "The firms have been generally responsive to the staff's recommendations, which are intended to strengthen NRSROs' policies, procedures, and operations and to make their internal governance and controls more robust. We will continue to review their responses to our recommendations and use our examinations to promote compliance with statutory and Commission requirements."
Congress mandated the creation of the Office of Credit Ratings as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which imposed new reporting, disclosure, and examination requirements to enhance the regulation of NRSROs. The Dodd-Frank Act requires the Commission staff to examine each NRSRO at least annually and issue a report summarizing the essential findings of the examinations. In the reports, firms are referred to as "large NRSROs" or "small NRSROs" to promote the public's understanding without compromising due process requirements.
The 2012 report discusses the staff's findings and recommendations in eight areas, including whether the NRSRO conducts business in accordance with its policies, procedures, and methodologies, how it manages conflicts of interest, and whether it maintains effective internal controls. The staff identified findings and made recommendations to all NRSROs. Findings identified at one or more NRSROs include the following:
- The methodology applied to rating certain securities appears to have been changed, but the change was not publicly disclosed for several months
- Certain securities were not timely downgraded in accordance with policies and procedures related to rating watch status
- Methodologies were published and disclosed inconsistently and in a less-than-transparent manner
- Directors were not actively exercising their required oversight duties
In addition to the recommendations to NRSROs based on the 2012 exams, the SEC's Office of Credit Ratings will promote compliance between exams by sending letters to the Designated Compliance Officers at all of the firms as issues arise. The first industry-wide "Dear DCO" letter, sent today, urges NRSROs to review SEC rules on preventing the misuse of material nonpublic information and avoiding unfair, coercive, or abusive practices with respect to credit ratings. The letter is available on the SEC's website at www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocr.shtml.
The following staff made significant contributions to the examinations referenced in the second annual staff report: Abe Losice, Kenneth Godwin, Michele Wilham, Jon Hertzke, Natalia Kaden, Nicole Billick, Shawn Davis, Michael Gerity, Warren Greth, Julia Kiel, Russell Long, Carlos Maymi, David Nicolardi, Harriet Orol, Jacob Prudhomme, Abraham Putney, Said Rafat, Mary Ryan, Warren Tong, Evelyn Tuntono, and Kenneth Weinstein.