Users of insurance financial strength ratings issued by A.M. Best and Fitch Ratings aren’t entirely clear on how the letter grades of the two credit rating agencies compare, a Wells Media survey reveals.

As of midday yesterday, an ongoing online poll of readers of Insurance Journal, who are primarily insurance agents and brokers, revealed that more than one-third of those who believe that A.M. Best and Fitch ratings can be compared at all think that an “A-” from A.M. Best is roughly the same as an “A” rating from Fitch.

(Carrier Management and Insurance Journal are both Wells Media publications.)

IJ READER POLL FITCH BEST RATINGS 08162016The poll results, posted on the front page of the Insurance Journal website, come just a month after Fitch Ratings warned that users of insurance ratings from four large credit rating agencies (CRAs) fail to understand differences in the rating scales, and explained that an “A-” insurer financial strength rating by A.M. Best is actually roughly equivalent to a “BBB” rating from Fitch, Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s.

Fitch’s assessment came in a white paper, titled “Not All Insurer Financial Strength Ratings Are Created Equal: A Look at the Lack of Comparability of A.M. Best’s ‘A-‘ IFS Ratings to Those of Fitch” (available on Fitch’s website).

The Wells Media survey confirmed that the majority of respondents agree with Fitch’s roadmap lining up its “BBB” rating with A.M. Best’s “A-” for insurance financial strength. But that majority is just under 38 percent. Of the roughly 200 respondents that offered a Fitch letter grade that is comparable to an “A-” from A.M. Best, only 74 of them selected “BBB” as the comparable rating.

Another 34 percent of those that said they could compare the ratings (67 respondents) selected “A” as the Fitch rating comparable to an “A-” from A.M. Best; 28 percent (56 respondents) selected a “BB” from Fitch as the equivalent to an A.M. Best “A-” rating.

In all, 287 IJ readers responded to the poll, with another 88 respondents saying that A.M. Best and Fitch ratings don’t compare at all.

In a July statement about its analysis, Fitch noted that the intent of the white paper was not to suggest that A.M. Best’s approach is wrong. “Rather, Fitch suggests that A.M. Best’s approach is different, and that this difference, in turn, makes A.M. Best’s ratings less comparable with those provided by Fitch and the other CRAs,” the announcement said, attributing the lack of comparability between A.M. Best and the others to criteria differences and to Best’s use of a 13-category scale (versus around 19 rating categories for Fitch and others).

For a summary of the white paper, see the related Carrier Management article, “A.M. Best’s ‘A-‘ Rating Not as Good as It Seems: Fitch Analysis.”