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Information or Insurance? On the Role of Loan Officer Discretion in Credit Assessment


  • Martin Brown

    () (University of St. Gallen)

  • Matthias Schaller

    () (University of St. Gallen)

  • Simone Westerfeld

    () (University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland)

  • Markus Heusler

    () (Risk Solution Network AG)


We employ a unique dataset of 6,669 credit assessments for 3,542 small businesses by nine banks using an identical rating model over the period 2006-2011 to examine (i) to what extent loan officers use their discretion to smooth credit ratings of their clients, and (ii) to assess whether this use of discretion is driven by information about the creditworthiness of the borrower or by the insurance of clients against fluctuations in lending conditions. Our results show that loan officers make extensive use of their discretion to smooth clients' credit ratings: One in five rating shocks induced by changes in the quantitative assessment of a client is reversed by the loan officer. This smoothing of credit ratings is prevalent across all rating classes, is independent of whether the borrower experiences a positive or a negative rating shock, and is independent of whether the shock is firm-specific or market-related. We find that discretionary rating changes have limited power in predicting future loan performance, indicating that the smoothing of credit ratings is only partially driven by information about creditworthiness. Instead, in line with the implicit contract view of credit relationships loan officers are more likely to smooth ratings when rating shocks have stronger implications for interest rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Brown & Matthias Schaller & Simone Westerfeld & Markus Heusler, 2012. "Information or Insurance? On the Role of Loan Officer Discretion in Credit Assessment," Mo.Fi.R. Working Papers 67, Money and Finance Research group (Mo.Fi.R.) - Univ. Politecnica Marche - Dept. Economic and Social Sciences.
  • Handle: RePEc:anc:wmofir:67

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Stefano Filomeni & Gregory F. Udell & Alberto Zazzaro, 2016. "Hardening Soft Information: How Far Has Technology Taken Us?," CSEF Working Papers 455, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    2. Paola Morales Acevedo & Steven Ongena, 2016. "Fear, Anger and Credit. On Bank Robberies and Loan Conditions," BAFFI CAREFIN Working Papers 1513, BAFFI CAREFIN, Centre for Applied Research on International Markets Banking Finance and Regulation, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy.
    3. repec:eee:jbfina:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:26-39 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Sumit Agarwal & Itzhak Ben-David, 2014. "Loan Prospecting and the Loss of Soft Information," NBER Working Papers 19945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Skrastins, Janis & Vig, Vikrant, 2015. "How organizational hierarchy affects information production," IMFS Working Paper Series 92, Goethe University Frankfurt, Institute for Monetary and Financial Stability (IMFS).
    6. Gropp, Reint & Gruendl, Christian & Guettler, Andre, 2013. "Hidden gems and borrowers with dirty little secrets: Investment in soft information, borrower self-selection and competition," SAFE Working Paper Series 19, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.
    7. Mosk, T.C., 2014. "Essays on banking," Other publications TiSEM d424ec24-1bfd-4be0-b19a-3, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.

    More about this item


    Asymmetric information; Credit rating; Implicit contracts; Relationship banking;

    JEL classification:

    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • L14 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation

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