English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2013

Annette Heuser: The 3 agencies with the power to make or break economies

Filmed
Views 1,213,645

The way we rate national economies is all wrong, says rating agency reformer Annette Heuser. With mysterious and obscure methods, three private US-based credit rating agencies wield immense power over national economies across the globe, and the outcomes can be catastrophic. But what if there was another way? In this bold talk, Heuser shares her vision for a nonprofit agency that would bring more equality and justice into the mix.

- Rating agency reformer
Annette Heuser proposes critical reforms to loosen the iron grip of rating agencies on national credit scores. Full bio

Almost two years ago,
00:12
I was driving in my car in Germany,
00:14
and I turned on the radio.
00:16
Europe at the time was in the middle
00:19
of the Euro crisis,
00:21
and all the headlines were about European countries
00:22
getting downgraded by rating agencies
00:27
in the United States.
00:30
I listened and thought to myself,
00:31
"What are these rating agencies,
00:34
and why is everybody so upset about their work?"
00:36
Well, if you were sitting
00:39
next to me in the car that day
00:41
and would have told me that I would devote
00:43
the next years to trying to reform them,
00:45
obviously I would have called you crazy.
00:49
But guess what's really crazy:
00:53
the way these rating agencies are run.
00:55
And I would like to explain to you
00:58
not only why it's time to change this,
00:59
but also how we can do it.
01:01
So let me tell you a little bit
01:04
about what rating agencies really do.
01:06
As you would read a car magazine
01:10
before purchasing a new car
01:12
or taking a look at a product review
01:14
before deciding which kind of tablet or phone to get,
01:16
investors are reading ratings
01:20
before they decide in which kind of product
01:22
they are investing their money.
01:25
A rating can range from a so-called AAA,
01:27
which means it's a top-performing product,
01:30
and it can go down to the level
01:33
of the so-called BBB-,
01:36
which means it's a fairly risky investment.
01:39
Rating agencies are rating companies.
01:42
They are rating banks.
01:45
They are rating even financial products
01:46
like the infamous mortgage-backed securities.
01:48
But they can also rate countries,
01:51
and these ratings are called sovereign ratings,
01:54
and I would like to focus in particular
01:56
on these sovereign ratings.
01:59
And I can tell, as you're listening to me right now,
02:01
you're thinking,
02:04
so why should I really care about this, right?
02:05
Be honest.
02:08
Well, ratings affect you.
02:09
They affect all of us.
02:12
If a rating agency rates a country,
02:14
it basically assesses and evaluates
02:17
a country's debt
02:20
and the ability and willingness of a country
02:22
to repay its debt.
02:24
So if a country gets downgraded by a rating agency,
02:26
the country has to pay more
02:29
in order to borrow money
02:31
on the international markets.
02:33
So it affects you as a citizen and as a taxpayer,
02:35
because you and your fellow countrymen
02:37
have to pony up more in order to borrow.
02:40
But what if a country can't afford to pay more
02:44
because it's maybe too expensive?
02:46
Well, then the country has less available
02:49
for other services, like roads, schools, healthcare.
02:52
And this is the reason why you should care,
02:56
because sovereign ratings affect everyone.
02:58
And that is the reason why I believe
03:01
they should be defined as public goods.
03:03
They should be transparent, accessible,
03:06
and available to everyone at no cost.
03:09
But here's the situation:
03:13
the rating agency market is dominated
03:15
by three players and three players only --
03:17
Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch --
03:20
and we know whenever there
is a market concentration,
03:23
there is really no competition.
03:26
There is no incentive to improve
03:28
the quality of your product.
03:30
And let's face it, the credit rating
agencies have contributed,
03:33
putting the global economy on the brink,
03:37
and yet they have to change the way they operate.
03:40
The second point,
03:43
would you really buy a car
03:45
just based on the advice of the dealer?
03:47
Obviously not, right? That would be irresponsible.
03:51
But that's actually what's going on
03:54
in the rating agency sector every single day.
03:56
The customers of these rating agencies,
04:00
like countries or companies,
04:03
they are paying for their own ratings,
04:06
and obviously this is creating
04:08
a conflict of interest.
04:10
The third point is,
04:13
the rating agencies are not really telling us
04:15
how they are coming up with their ratings,
04:18
but in this day and age,
04:21
you can't even sell a candy bar
04:23
without listing everything that's inside.
04:25
But for ratings, a crucial element of our economy,
04:28
we really do not know
04:31
what all the different ingredients are.
04:33
We are allowing the rating agencies
04:36
to be intransparent about their work,
04:37
and we need to change this.
04:40
I think there is no doubt that the sector
04:42
needs a complete overhaul,
04:45
not just a trimming at the margins.
04:46
I think it's time for a bold move.
04:49
I think it's time to upgrade the system.
04:51
And this is why we at the Bertelsmann Foundation
04:54
have invested a lot of time and effort
04:57
thinking about an alternative for the sector.
05:00
And we have developed the first model
05:03
for a nonprofit rating agency for sovereign risk,
05:06
and we call it by its acronym, INCRA.
05:11
INCRA would make a difference
05:16
to the current system
05:17
by adding another nonprofit player to the mix.
05:19
It would be based on a nonprofit model
05:24
that would be based on a sustainable endowment.
05:27
The endowment would create income
05:31
that would allow us to run the operation,
05:33
to run the rating agency,
05:35
and it would also allow us
05:37
to make our ratings publicly available.
05:39
But this is not enough to make a difference, right?
05:43
INCRA would also be based on
05:45
a very, very clear governance structure
05:47
that would avoid any conflict of interest,
05:50
and it would include many stakeholders from society.
05:53
INCRA would not only be a European
05:58
or an American rating agency,
06:00
it would be a truly international one,
06:02
in which, in particular, the emerging economies
06:05
would have an equal interest,
voice and representation.
06:08
The second big difference that INCRA would make is
06:13
that would it base its sovereign risk assessment
06:16
on a broader set of indicators.
06:19
Think about it that way.
06:22
If we conduct a sovereign rating,
06:24
we basically take a look at
06:26
the economic soil of a country,
06:27
its macroeconomic fundamentals.
06:30
But we also have to ask the question,
06:33
who is cultivating the economic soil
06:35
of a country, right?
06:38
Well, a country has many gardeners,
06:40
and one of them is the government,
06:42
so we have to ask the question,
06:44
how is a country governed?
06:46
How is it managed?
06:47
And this is the reason why we have developed
06:49
what we call forward-looking indicators.
06:51
These are indicators that give you
06:54
a much better read about
06:56
the socioeconomic development of a country.
06:57
I hope you would agree it's important for you to know
07:01
if your government is willing to invest
in renewable energy and education.
07:03
It's important for you to know
07:11
if the government of your country
07:12
is able to manage a crisis,
07:14
if the government is finally able to implement
07:16
the reforms that it's promised.
07:19
For example, if INCRA would rate
07:23
South Africa right now,
07:25
of course we would take a very, very close look
07:27
at the youth unemployment of the country,
07:30
the highest in the world.
07:33
If over 70 percent of a country's population
07:35
under the age of 35 is unemployed,
07:38
of course this has a huge impact on the economy
07:42
today and even more so in the future.
07:45
Well, our friends at Moody's,
07:49
Standard & Poor's, and Fitch will tell us
07:52
we would take this into account as well.
07:54
But guess what? We do not know
07:57
exactly how they will take this into account.
07:59
And this leads me to the third big difference
08:02
that INCRA would make.
08:04
INCRA would not only release its ratings
08:06
but it would also release its indicators
08:09
and methodology.
08:12
So in contrast to the current system,
08:14
INCRA would be fully transparent.
08:16
So in a nutshell,
08:20
INCRA would offer an alternative
08:21
to the current system of
the big three rating agencies
08:24
by adding a new, nonprofit player to the mix
08:27
that would increase the competition,
08:31
it would increase the transparency of the sector,
08:33
and it would also increase the quality.
08:36
I can tell that sovereign ratings
08:39
may still look to you like this very small piece
08:41
of this very complex global financial world,
08:44
but I tell you it's a very important one,
08:48
and a very important one to fix,
08:51
because sovereign ratings affect all of us,
08:53
and they should be addressed and should be defined
08:56
as public goods.
09:00
And this is why we are testing our model right now,
09:01
and why we are trying to find out if it can
09:04
bring together a group of able and willing actors
09:07
to bring INCRA to life.
09:10
I truly believe building up INCRA
09:13
is in everyone's interest,
09:16
and that we have the unique opportunity right now
09:18
to turn INCRA into a cornerstone
09:22
of a new, more inclusive financial system.
09:24
Because for way too long,
09:29
we have left the big financial players on their own.
09:31
It's time to give them some company.
09:35
Thank you.
09:38
(Applause)
09:40

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Annette Heuser - Rating agency reformer
Annette Heuser proposes critical reforms to loosen the iron grip of rating agencies on national credit scores.

Why you should listen

Credit rating agencies, with their power to downgrade credit ratings for entire nations, have come under intense scrutiny and recent events have put their acceptance and transparency into question. What if there was an alternative, free from the limitations and weakened legitimacy that encumbers the big three agencies?

Annette Heuser, executive director of the Washington branch of the German Bertelsmann Foundation, has created a blueprint for a new, non-profit solution to loosen the agencies’ iron grip. The International Nonprofit Credit Rating Agency (INCRA) would conduct unsolicited foreign-risk assessments, redefining sovereign ratings as a public good, and could dramatically shift the financial futures of the world.

More profile about the speaker
Annette Heuser | Speaker | TED.com