CAMELS Rating System

A supervisory rate that assesses financial institutions.

The CAMELS rating system is used as a supervisory rate that assesses financial institutions on 6 categories in order to evaluate their risk and financial health

The categories assessed are Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management, Earnings, Liquidity, and Sensitivity to market risks. The parameters of these factors are interrelated but that fact is considered in forming the final score.

A score of 1 is the best and entails that the institution or bank is very sound and complies with risk management practices. A score of 5 is the worst and it implies that a bank has inadequate risk management practices and is fundamentally unsound.    

This rating system was founded in the U.S. in 1979 but is used internationally as a uniform measure of performance. It is consistently updated to match current financial market conditions. Hence, in 1997, the "S" was added to include "Sensitivity" in the evaluation. 

What is CAMELS Rating System?

CAMELS is an acronym that represents six factors used for the rating and it stands for 

  • Capital adequacy
  • Asset quality
  • Management
  • Earnings
  • Liquidity
  • Sensitivity

It is a rating system that was developed in the United States but is used internationally as a supervisory rate to assess a financial institution's (example: banks) overall condition. 

Supervisory authorities use a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the best, and 5 being the worst) in order to predict which institutions will likely prevail in the future and which will fail.  

Therefore, financial institutions with a score closer to 1 are evaluated as more financially stable and low-risk. Whereas institutions with a score closer to 5 are viewed as less financially stable and at higher risk. 

CAMELS works by each institution being graded on the individual components of the rating system. Thereafter, their average is calculated to find the official score. 

However, since some of the parameters of its factors are interrelated, their interrelationship is taken into consideration for the final rating. 

  • A scale of 1: Implies that the institution has vigorous performance, is financially sound and complies with risk management practices. 
  • A scale of 2: Implies that the institution is financially sound with minor weaknesses present.
  • A scale of 3: Implies that the institution is showing supervisory concern in several of its criteria dimensions. 
  • A scale of 4: Implies that the institution has unsound practices, and is at high risk due to serious financial problems. 
  • A scale of 5: Implies that the institution is fundamentally unsound with inadequate risk management practices. 

Generally, a score of 2 or 1 is an indicator of high-quality performance.

CAMELS differs from other regulatory ratios or ratings due to the fact that its outcome is not available to the public. Top management uses it to understand and regulate possible outcomes and risks. 

This rating system is an important assessment tool that lets financial institutions identify their strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, corrective action can be taken which would allow for better performance. 

Additionally, CAMELS is largely used by banks which are the backbone of every country's economic system. Having financially healthy banks could prevent future recessions and improve a country's economy

Capital Adequacy 

This factor of the rating system evaluates the bank's compliance with the regulations of the minimum reserve amount. This determines how solvent an institution is. In other words, how able it is to pay its debt. 

Its financial position is evaluated from current information and from the information from several years ago. As for future financial positions, they are predicted based on the institution's plans (ex: giving out dividends, acquisitions, etc.).    

The ability of an institution to sustain its capital helps to determine how well it can manage its capital through periods of loss or debt. Some of the parameters used in this evaluation are:  

  1. Composition of capital
  2. Liquidity of capital
  3. Trend analysis
  4. Growth Plan
  5. Ability to Control Risk
  6. Loan and Investment Concentrations 

Likewise, the rating score also depends on the degree to which the institution is complying with regulations pertaining to risk-based net worth requirements, as well as interest and dividend rules and practices.  

A higher rating in this factor indicates that the institution is at a higher risk of insolvency and it is more likely that it will be unable to pay off its liabilities. 

Asset Quality 

Asset Quality is the net indicator after capital adequacy. This factor assesses the quality of a bank's assets in regard to how risky they are. 

This is important because if the value of an asset is at a high risk of decreasing, that can affect an institution's ability to pay back its debt. Thus, the quality of assets can affect an institution's profitability. 

For instance, loans can become impaired if they are lent to high-risk individuals. Therefore, the criteria for this factor are largely centered around these parameters:

  • Lending policies
  • Investment policies and Loan practices 
  • Credit risks (such as interest rate risk and liquidity risk)

The percentage of non-performing assets to total assets, and that of secured assets to total assets are good measures of the quality of an institution's assets.

Likewise, previous trend lines of major asset quality are considered. If an institution's assets have been declining in value for a couple of years, it will receive a lower rating. 

Institutions with assets that are low or declining in value will get a higher rating due to being at more risk of being unable to pay off their debt by asset liquidation. 

Management 

This qualitative factor measures the management's ability to identify and react appropriately to financial stress. An institution's management needs to be efficient in order for it to execute its future growth and profitability plans. 

Likewise, it needs to control financial risk both from external and internal factors. The external factors are linked with business strategy. Hence some of the external parameters considered are:

  • Quality of a bank's business strategy
  • Capital Accumulation rate 
  • Growth rate
  • Identification of major risks  

Internally, management is measured by the institution's ability to track and identify potential risks. Hence, some of the internal parameters include:

  • The board of director's ability to make decisions aids in the institution's growth 
  • HR's ability to hire efficient personnel, train existing personnel, and provide full support for maximum performance
  • Sound processes, controls, and auditing practices 
  • How well an institution's technology system functions
  • The processes adopted by an institution for budgeting and strategic planning 

Management is also measured by the institution's ability to follow necessary and applicable internal and external regulations. 

Hence, a higher-risk institution will be inadequate at identifying risks and have an insufficient growth rate and business strategy.  

Earnings

It is a factor that measures an institution's ability to produce sufficient returns that can be utilized for its economic sustainability and expansion. The institution's quality of earnings reflects its current performance and future performance. 

Likewise, the stability of the returns is an important indicator of financial health, which is why institutions consider their core earnings as the most important. Additionally, an institution's future earnings prospects are examined under harsh economic conditions for evaluation

Some of the parameters considered in assessing earnings are:

  • Return on Equity (ROEevaluates how an institution realizes profits through operational processes, increasing its net value. 
  • Return on Assets (ROA) evaluates how adequate the assets of an institution generate profits.
  • Interest Policy evaluates how an institution's interest policy favors profit generation 
  • Net Interest Margin (NIM) compares the net interest income generated by credit instruments (ex: loans) with the outgoing interest paid by the institution. 

Likewise, Institutions need to be efficient in generating earnings. Thus, their ability to attain progress and realize a favorable cost structure is assessed as well. 

An institution that is at higher risk will have insufficient and likely more unstable earnings. 

Liquidity 

Liquidity measures a bank's ability to meet its short-term obligations by converting its assets into capital. This factor is very important because a lack of liquid capital can lead to a bank run

Likewise, this factor assesses the efficiency at which an institution increases its assets, thus, decreasing the need for external funding. The parameters evaluated for this factor include:

  • The loan Deposit Ratio assesses the institution's ability to pay back its liabilities in case of any unforeseen fund requirements.
  • The liquid Asset to Total Assets Ratio evaluates the number of liquid assets an institution possesses in comparison to its total assets.  

This factor primarily measures the Interest rate risk and liquidity risk of an institution. An institution needs to have sufficient liquid funds to meet its obligation to depositors and customers while simultaneously investing for profitability. 

Institutions with excellent liquidity are defined as able to meet their future cash flow needs without compromising day-to-day operations. 

Sensitivity

Sensitivity is the last factor and it assesses how particular risk exposure can affect an institution. The sensitivity to market risks is measured by monitoring the management of credit concentrations. 

Accordingly, examiners can evaluate how lending to specific industries affects an institution. Examples of such lending include agricultural lending, medical lending, credit card lending, and energy sector lending. 

Some industries pose more risk than others. Hence, why it is important to identify them. Factors that contribute to this uneven risk between industries are interest rates, exchange rates, and commodity prices. All of the aforementioned industry factors can be expressed by Beta.   

Sensitivity can impact other factors in the CAMELS Rating System such as earnings and capital adequacy. 

Examiners measure market risk sensitivity by evaluating an institution's assets and liabilities, and their potential impact on its earnings and capital. 

This assessment takes into consideration both quantitative and qualitative factors such as the institution's debt ratio (assets to liabilities ratio), policies regarding risk tolerance, etc. 

CAMELS Rating System History 

As aforementioned, CAMELS was developed in the United States by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC). However, it is used internationally by banks. 

It is the Uniform Financial Institutions Rating System (UFIRS) but is commonly referred to as CAMEL (likely because it is the acronym of its examined factors).

It was developed in 1979 to assess the risk of financial institutions on a system-wide basis. The National Credit Union Association (NCUA) adopted this rating system in 1987. NCUA periodically modifies CAMEL to respond to changes in the financial services industry. 

In 1997, the system was updated to contain "Sensitivity", adding an "S" to the acronym, making it "CAMELS". 

Likewise, after the 2008 recession, risk management policies became understandably more thorough and thus required the CAMELS rating system to be updated to match new market requirements. 

CAMEL is also used as an internal rating system used for evaluating the soundness of credit unions on a uniform basis, and for identifying those institutions requiring special supervisory attention or concern. 

There were other rating systems put in place other than CAMELS. However, those systems have since been modified to mimic CAMELS such as the Early Warning System (EWS) for Credit Unions. 

Examiners transitioned from using multiple rating systems to a single (CAMELS) to ensure rating consistency. Likewise, other rating systems were flawed due to only considering financial ratios which do not paint the whole picture when it comes to risk.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CAMELS

CAMELS is a crucial rating system that evaluates the overall performance of banks and other financial institutions. 

Its main purpose is to identify which banks are prone to failure and are in need of increased supervisory attention. This prevents bank failures and in turn, keeps the economy more stable. Likewise, it provides a summary of the institution's compliance with policies and regulations. 

For instance, in the 2008 recession, it was used as a tool to identify the banks that qualified for the capitalization program as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. 

It is a great tool due to the increasing integration of global financial markets. However, a disadvantage to the system is that it does not reflect the nature of banks globally, as it was founded in the U.S. 

Likewise, since CAMELS includes qualitative evaluation, the rating is prone to some subjectivity. It also ignores the interaction between the bank's top management, which if analyzed, could give more insight into the effectiveness of the institution's management and impact its score. 

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Researched and authored by Anja Corbolokovic | LinkedIn 

Reviewed and edited by Tanay Gehi LinkedIn

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