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The Ethics of Credit Rating Agencies: What Happened and the Way Forward


  • Steven Scalet


  • Thomas Kelly



During the short span of a few months in 2008, 14 trillion dollars of highly rated bonds fell into junk status, surprising the global financial system and accelerating an economic decline. The result was the worst fracture of the US financial system since the Great Depression. Credit rating agencies (CRAs) in particular have come under intense scrutiny as a result of this latest disaster, both domestically and internationally, including many congressional inquiries and government investigations. Most of the public and scholarly discussions about CRAs focus on reforming the financial system so that the crisis of the magnitude of the 2008 disaster will not happen again. An important overtone of industry criticisms includes a sense of ethical impropriety on the part of CRAs and ethical uncertainty about the institutional mechanisms that are currently in place. Rarely, however, are the ethics of the industry the explicit subject of analysis. In this article, we discuss the lessons from the policy debates and recent legislation to develop an account of the ethics of the CRA industry. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Steven Scalet & Thomas Kelly, 2012. "The Ethics of Credit Rating Agencies: What Happened and the Way Forward," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(4), pages 477-490, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:4:p:477-490
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1212-y

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mathis, Jérôme & McAndrews, James & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 2009. "Rating the raters: Are reputation concerns powerful enough to discipline rating agencies?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(5), pages 657-674, July.
    2. Skreta, Vasiliki & Veldkamp, Laura, 2009. "Ratings shopping and asset complexity: A theory of ratings inflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(5), pages 678-695, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bonnie G. Buchanan, 2016. "Securitization: A Financing Vehicle for All Seasons?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 138(3), pages 559-577, October.
    2. Buchanan, Bonnie G., 2016. "Securitization: a financing vehicle for all seasons?," Research Discussion Papers 31/2016, Bank of Finland.
    3. Luitel, Prabesh & Vanpée, Rosanne & De Moor, Lieven, 2016. "Pernicious effects: How the credit rating agencies disadvantage emerging markets," Research in International Business and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 286-298.
    4. Buchanan, Bonnie G., 2017. "The way we live now: Financialization and securitization," Research in International Business and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 39(PB), pages 663-677.
    5. Noel Murray & Ajay Manrai & Lalita Manrai, 2015. "Deconstructing Financial Services Advertising in the Run Up to the Great Recession: The Case of the Live Richly Campaign," International Journal of Business and Economics, College of Business and College of Finance, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan, vol. 14(1), pages 7-22, June.


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