Implied Materiality and Material Disclosures of Credit Ratings

by Robert G. Eccles & Tim Youmans

Overview — Materiality—a concept at the core of financial, sustainability, and integrated reporting—means the "reportability" of economic, environmental, social, and governance (risk) issues. Using the lens of materiality, the authors of this paper examine principles underlying the methodologies and business models of credit reporting agencies (CRAs), finding that CRAs have potential governance shortcomings that need to be addressed by the boards of the CRAs themselves. The governance remedies recommended here aim to restore credit rating institutions to their historic role in the proper functioning of the global capital markets.

Author Abstract

This first of three papers in our series on materiality in credit ratings will examine the materiality of credit ratings from an "implied materiality" and governance disclosure perspective. In the second paper, we will explore the materiality of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in credit ratings' methodologies and introduce the concept of "layered materiality." In the third paper, we will evaluate current and potential credit rating agency (CRA) business models based on our analysis in the previous papers, and introduce the concept of "institutionalized materiality." Starting with this paper, and in the rest of the series, we will also recommend how the credit rating model can be enhanced in the coming years to help build more sustainable credit markets. This first paper is focused on the "G" (governance) component of ESG reporting. The governance matters we identify in this paper must be addressed before turning our attention to the broader set of ESG considerations in credit ratings. Failure to put these important governance matters at the top of the credit ratings reform agenda would, in our opinion, undermine the efforts we will recommend in our second and third papers.

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