It’s all About Trust

Firstly, I’d like to thank Accountancy Age’s Ed Damian Wild for asking me to host this blog all about the sometimes risky business of credit. In inviting me, he said he thought I had an opinion on everything…. I eventually took this as a compliment, and therefore accepted his offer.

Anyhow, credit has loomed large over the last few months. US credit rating agencies S&P and Moodys have been criticised for not downgrading the debt emanating from the US sub prime lending market, causing a credit crunch and market jitters across the globe.Now, that business was all about handing out mortgages to people with checkered credit histories. Hello! I think SOMEONE should have seen a problem ahead, don’t you?

Maybe S&P and Moodys simply got it wrong, or maybe critics are right to say there’s a conflict of interest at the heart of the rating agency business in the States- after all, these agencies receive their income from the very businesses and investment funds whose products and corporations they rate.

Commercial credit agencies like Graydon and Experian are different from the likes of Moodys. We produce credit scores on the whole population of businesses for trade credit purposes, while Moodys and S&P rate corporations and funds for investors. I remember a couple of years ago, a businessman offered me money to improve his company’s credit rating.After getting over the initial shock, I told him where to go.

The world of credit is all about trust and belief, and if there’s any room for questioning the validity and impartiality of agency ratings, then maybe it’s time for more transparency in the sector through an enforced code of conduct, as has been called for by various European politicians and press pundits. I read on the 27th September that the Securities and Exchange Commission on Capitol Hill is already studying whether the rating agencies were "unduly influenced" by fees from Wall Street banks into awarding healthy ratings to sub prime mortgage backed securities.I’m sure we’ll see whether lawmakers on either side of the Atlantic have an appetite for taking things still further.

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