The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is taking steps to rein in credit rating agencies after the agencies' assessments of structured securities were cited as one of the factors in last year's financial meltdown. But critics question whether the new rules the SEC approved in September will make much difference in the way credit raters go about their business.

The SEC mandated more transparency from rating agencies, ranging from a requirement that they make the history of their ratings freely accessible to rules that they disclose more about compliance efforts, about limitations on the scope of their ratings, and about "ratings shopping." The rating agencies will also need to disclose more information about possible conflicts of interest.

Brian Kalish, director of the finance practice at the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) calls the SEC's recent actions "little steps," adding that "we just don't think it's really getting us anywhere. They're talking about disclosing conflicts of interest, we think the focus should be on eliminating conflicts of interest." AFP has called for restructuring the business so the agencies are supported by transaction fees, rather than fees paid by issuers.

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