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Stewardship Grades: Understanding, Examples, and Importance

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Silas Bamigbola

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A stewardship grade evaluates the quality of a company’s governance practices, serving as an essential tool for investors. Morningstar, a renowned investment research firm, issues these grades, ranging from A to F, based on various criteria. This article explores the significance of stewardship grades, Morningstar’s evaluation process, and their implications for investors.

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Introduction to stewardship grades

A stewardship grade is an evaluation of a company’s governance practices, indicating its commitment to shareholders’ interests. Morningstar, a leading investment research firm, introduced stewardship grades for mutual funds and stocks to assist investors in making informed decisions. These grades assess factors such as regulatory compliance, board quality, managerial incentives, and corporate culture.

Understanding stewardship grades

Stewardship grades serve as a crucial metric for investors evaluating the integrity and management practices of companies issuing stocks or managing mutual funds. Morningstar initiated stewardship grades in 2004 following regulatory investigations into mutual fund companies’ practices.

Morningstar stewardship grade criteria

Morningstar analysts assess five key factors to determine stewardship grades for mutual funds, including regulatory compliance, board quality, manager incentives, fees, and corporate culture. For stocks, the evaluation focuses on transparency in financial reporting, shareholder friendliness, incentives, ownership, and overall stewardship.

Benefits of stewardship grades

Stewardship grades provide investors with insights into how well a company is managed and its commitment to shareholder interests. They complement other investment metrics and analyst commentaries, aiding investors in identifying potential investment opportunities and risks.

About corporate governance

Corporate governance encompasses the principles, practices, and processes by which corporations are directed, controlled, and managed. It defines the relationships between various stakeholders, including shareholders, management, employees, customers, suppliers, and the broader community. Effective corporate governance promotes transparency, accountability, fairness, and responsibility in decision-making, aiming to enhance the long-term value and sustainability of organizations.
Key components of corporate governance include:
  • Board of directors: The board of directors plays a central role in corporate governance, providing oversight and strategic guidance to management. Board members are responsible for setting corporate objectives, appointing executives, and ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Shareholder rights: Corporate governance frameworks aim to protect and uphold the rights of shareholders, including the right to vote on key corporate decisions, receive dividends, and access relevant information about the company’s performance and activities.
  • Transparency and disclosure: Companies are expected to maintain transparent and accurate financial reporting, providing stakeholders with timely and reliable information about their financial position, performance, and risks.
  • Ethical standards: Ethical conduct and integrity are fundamental principles of corporate governance. Organizations are expected to uphold ethical standards in all aspects of their operations, including interactions with stakeholders, compliance with laws and regulations, and adherence to corporate values.
  • Risk management: Effective corporate governance involves identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks that may impact the organization’s objectives and reputation. Companies are encouraged to establish robust risk management frameworks and internal controls to safeguard against potential threats.
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR): Corporate governance extends beyond financial performance to encompass broader social and environmental considerations. Companies are increasingly expected to integrate CSR initiatives into their business strategies, addressing social and environmental challenges while creating long-term value for all stakeholders.
Overall, corporate governance practices vary across industries, regions, and organizations, reflecting diverse cultural, regulatory, and business environments. However, the overarching goal remains consistent: to promote trust, integrity, and accountability in corporate decision-making, thereby fostering sustainable business growth and stakeholder value.

Stewardship grades vs. Morningstar star ratings

It’s important to distinguish between stewardship grades and Morningstar star ratings. While stewardship grades assess governance practices, star ratings evaluate a fund’s past performance in terms of risk and return. The two metrics serve different purposes and have no direct correlation.

Pros and cons of stewardship grades

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Provides insight into governance practices
  • Assists investors in making informed decisions
  • Complements other investment metrics
  • Qualitative assessment may be subjective
  • Does not directly measure financial performance
  • May not capture all aspects of corporate governance

Examples of stewardship grades in action

1. Company XYZ receives an “A” stewardship grade from Morningstar due to its transparent financial reporting, strong board governance, and alignment of managerial incentives with shareholder interests. Investors view Company XYZ favorably, considering its commitment to sound governance practices.
2. Fund ABC, despite its impressive performance track record, receives a “C” stewardship grade from Morningstar due to high fees, lack of board independence, and minimal shareholder engagement. Investors may reconsider investing in Fund ABC, prioritizing funds with higher stewardship grades.

Factors to consider when analyzing stewardship grades

1. Regulatory compliance: Assess the extent to which the company or fund adheres to regulatory requirements and industry standards.
2. Shareholder engagement: Evaluate the level of shareholder involvement in decision-making processes and the company’s responsiveness to investor concerns.
3. Board independence: Examine the independence and diversity of the board of directors, ensuring effective oversight and accountability.
4. Corporate culture: Consider the organization’s values, ethics, and corporate social responsibility initiatives, reflecting its commitment to stakeholders beyond financial performance.


In conclusion, stewardship grades serve as invaluable tools for investors seeking to assess the quality of a company’s governance practices. Morningstar’s evaluation criteria, ranging from regulatory compliance to corporate culture, provide a comprehensive framework for analyzing stewardship grades for both mutual funds and stocks. While stewardship grades should be considered alongside other investment metrics, they offer unique insights into a company’s commitment to shareholder interests and long-term sustainability. By understanding and interpreting stewardship grades effectively, investors can make informed decisions and build robust investment portfolios.

Frequently asked questions

What is the significance of stewardship grades for investors?

Stewardship grades offer investors insights into the quality of a company’s governance practices, helping them assess the potential risks and opportunities associated with their investments.

How often are stewardship grades updated?

Stewardship grades are typically updated periodically by Morningstar as they assess new data and developments related to the companies and funds under evaluation.

Can stewardship grades impact investment decisions?

Yes, stewardship grades can influence investment decisions by providing investors with valuable information about a company’s governance practices, which may affect its long-term performance and sustainability.

Are stewardship grades the same as Morningstar star ratings?

No, stewardship grades and Morningstar star ratings serve different purposes. While stewardship grades evaluate governance practices, star ratings assess a fund’s past performance in terms of risk and return.

How can investors interpret stewardship grades?

Investors should consider stewardship grades in conjunction with other investment metrics and analyst commentaries to gain a comprehensive understanding of a company’s governance practices and investment potential.

Do stewardship grades account for environmental and social factors?

While stewardship grades primarily focus on governance practices, they may indirectly reflect a company’s approach to environmental and social issues, especially those related to corporate culture and transparency.

Where can investors find Morningstar stewardship grades?

Morningstar stewardship grades are typically available on Morningstar’s website, investment research platforms, and in various financial reports and publications.

Key takeaways

  • Stewardship grades assess a company’s governance practices.
  • Morningstar issues stewardship grades for mutual funds and stocks.
  • Understanding stewardship grades is essential for investors evaluating potential investments.

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