Merritt Research Services, LLC is a data and research provider focused primarily on credit information related to municipal bonds. Our goal is to provide and maintain the highest-quality set of comprehensive financial and supplemental data in the municipal finance industry; data that is ready for basic and advanced analytical evaluation, statistical comparisons and modeling.
Merritt Research Services, LLC was founded in Naperville, Illinois as The Merritt System, in 1985, as part of the investment dealer and investment management company known as Van Kampen Merritt Inc. One year later, in 1986, The Merritt System was launched as the municipal bond industry’s first publicly available commercial software and database and analytical package. It was designed to provide municipal bond credit analysis beginning with the hospital sector, the first of the 13 standard sectors covered today.
In 1996, Van Kampen partnered with Investortools Inc. to channel all of The Merritt System’s data and analytical functionality into a more powerful software package created by Investortools and known as CreditScope. CreditScope is linked with its industry leading portfolio analytical program known as Perform. The database operation was moved from Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The combination of Merritt data and Investortools CreditScope catapulted the combined package into the standard for investment professionals who manage, monitor and research the credit quality for municipal bonds.
Merritt Research Services, LLC was spun off by Van Kampen Investments in 2001 as an independent LLC and operations were later moved to Hiawatha, Iowa. Merritt became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Investortools Inc. late in 2019.
What We Do
Merritt Research Services collects and aggregates official audit reports and continuing disclosure information from over 10,000 individual municipal borrowers. We accomplish this, in part, by actively requesting financial statements and other documents as needed from the borrower, official repositories or other delivery agents. We also associate the obligated parties with the appropriate debt issuers and bond issues for around 60,000 individual municipal borrowers. By linking credit information with issue information, CreditScope software users are provided the ability to assess debt exposure at the obligor level or easily track down disclosure filings on a particular municipal bond borrower.
Our highly-trained team of data examiners standardizes the financial statements and carefully enters the information into our database. Each data input is double-checked by a second member of the Merritt team and broadly subjected to a variety of data anomaly tests before it becomes an entry into our data set. Our thoughtful data preparation and grooming process provides our users a wealth of ready-to-use analytical opportunities to review financial ratios and produce sophisticated analysis, comparisons and models, without entering their own raw data points into a spreadsheet.
To promote transparency, we scan, or aggregate as appropriate, the documents into our database. In addition, we catalog documents by common names and obligated parties for simple and organized retrieval. Users are provided the capability to inspect or download original financial statement documents to examine the context of the figures as well as the footnotes that support them.
We provide support for our numbers. Our end-users often reach out to interact with our financial statement analysts to help explain what we included in a particular number (e.g. Board Designated Assets or Net Direct Debt).
We aggregate meaningful information in one place. Use our products to look up a borrower, retrieve annual reports and obtain financial and other credit-defining qualifiers such as key operational statistics, current event memos and socio-economic indicators, including data from the U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis and the FBI.
The Merritt Research Services Added Edge
For over 36 years, Merritt Research has developed and refined our practice to provide the most accurate financial statement data available. Our analysts typically have accounting or finance backgrounds and are groomed to rigorously evaluate and analyze financial statements. We are continually assessing our approach to the analysis by regularly incorporating new accounting standards and other changes in statement presentation. Our analysis goes beyond the balance sheet and income statement; we routinely peruse the financial notes and when necessary, will call the CFO, auditor or their appropriate representative to clarify the financial presentation. This expertise and focus on the analysis of financial statements ensures our ability to standardize and present the financial condition of municipal borrowers consistently and accurately.
The Value of Data Integrity
Merritt Research has developed strenuous quality control procedures throughout the data gathering, extraction, entry, review and grooming processes. We believe that the reputation of our data relies heavily on the quality control procedures that we enact. The following exemplifies how quality control is instilled in each step of the data process.
With our audit request letters, we also send a survey requesting key industry-accepted operating statistics. To ensure consistency, we include a set of definitions that function as a guideline for the borrower to use when completing the survey. These steps ensure that our users are receiving quality operational statistics from which accurate trends can be derived.
Several data checks are performed when entering the prepared data into the database. An Entry Analyst is the first team member to prepare and extract the data to a spreadsheet. During the preparation and extraction process, the analyst will consult the internal procedures manual which has been developed to ensure that every team member is applying like-standards. To promote data quality and consistency, the manual contains guidelines on the extraction of every data field in our database.
The Review Process
To facilitate quality control, a Review Analyst will review every data field that is entered by another team member. To promote continuity, the review process mirrors the initial extraction efforts. The Review Analyst examines the same documents and processes as the original Entry Analyst and identifies any discrepancies. If a discrepancy is found, it is discussed and referenced against the procedures manual to arrive at the most appropriate answer. We place great emphasis on the review process, ensuring that our users receive only the most accurate and objective data.
Automated Data Audit
Merritt Research’s final quality control procedure utilizes reports to identify mathematically improbable or impossible credit scenarios. The intention of this data audit is to create a final data check to screen and account for any financial irregularities. This process includes a sequence of hundreds of reports to identify potentially erroneous data. Any data inconsistencies are catalogued and then manually reviewed. This final process of identifying and evaluating uncharacteristic data points serves as an extra level of assurance that our data is thoroughly and methodically examined.