Ethics Case Study of the Week: Oh No! Accidental Facebook Post!

By Gary Sarkissian posted 8 days ago


CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct codify the ethical guidelines for the investment profession that are critical to maintaining the integrity of capital markets and investor trust.  Members, candidates, and even firms make a commitment to uphold these standards as they help elevate ethical decision-making universally around the globe. 

As investment professionals, we are certain to face important ethical decisions in our day-to-day activities.  Some scenarios we encounter will be straightforward, while others may be more complex.  No matter what circumstances we face, continuous learning remains imperative in an investment industry that continues to evolve with products undergoing innovation and a regulatory environment continuing to adapt. 

For that reason, each week we will feature a sample case from CFA Institute’s Ethics in Practice Casebook.  Each case is built upon a real-life example that may involve a regulatory matter or even a CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigation.  At the end of the case is a multiple-choice question that addresses the ethical nature of the actions taken in that case.  

This week’s case involves Standard IV(A) Duties to Employers - Loyalty. 

Oh No! Accidental Facebook Post!
John Walsh, CFA, is the Chief Financial Officer of TrueTech Corporation, a leading semiconductor manufacturer in the United States. For the past few months, Walsh has led the TrueTech team in talks to buy a majority stake in Veridy Corporation, a smaller, privately owned semiconductor company that has a patented technology that could potentially cut the chip manufacturing costs of TrueTech by almost 40%. After intense negotiations, TrueTech is able to close the deal with Veridy late on a Friday night.  Walsh wants to share the good news with his wife, so he takes out his phone and types “Finally! TrueTech has acquired a majority stake in Veridy. The deal is sealed!” But instead of sending the message to his wife, he accidentally posts it on his personal Facebook page. The next morning (a Saturday), he wakes up and discovers the blunder. Did Walsh violate any part of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics or Standards of Professional Conduct?

A.  No, this was an honest mistake.
B.  Yes, but Walsh does not need to do anything to rectify the matter because the posting was unintentional.
C.  Yes, Walsh should immediately disclose his actions to TrueTech and Veridy.
D.  Yes, Walsh should post the merger information on the company website and make a public announcement about the transaction.

What do you think is the correct choice?  Feel free to discuss in the comments below and make sure to check back later this week as we post the analysis.  The completion of this case qualifies for 0.25 hour of Standards, Ethics, and Regulation (SER) credit

[Update – 5/21/2020]
Welcome back!  Here is the analysis of this case:

This case is involves Standard IV(A): Duties to Employers – Loyalty, which states that CFA Institute members must not “divulge confidential information or otherwise cause harm to their employer.” Even though his action was unintentional, Walsh violated his duty of loyalty to his employer because he disclosed confidential information about TrueTech outside the company. The honest mistake does not exonerate him from violation. Walsh is also in danger of violating Standard II(A): Material Nonpublic Information, which states that CFA Institute members must “not act or cause others to act” on material nonpublic information. Walsh inadvertently leaked material nonpublic information to the select group of people who are his friends on Facebook. But there is no indication from the facts given that any of Walsh’s Facebook friends who received the merger information tried to take advantage of that information. Walsh should take steps to attempt to rectify his mistake.  Although Walsh should notify TrueTech and Veridy of his error, that does not go far enough. The most appropriate course of action is for Walsh to publicly disseminate the news of the merger as quickly as possible so that the information is available to all investors. Answer D is the best choice.

This case was written by Tanuj Kholsa, CFA, CAIA, and the facts are not based on any particular case.

© 2018 CFA Institute. All rights reserved. You may copy and distribute this content, without modification and for non-commercial purposes, provided you attribute the content to CFA Institute and retain this copyright notice. This case was written as a basis for discussion and is not prescriptive of how a business situation or professional conduct matter should or should not be handled or addressed. Certain characters mentioned are fictional to facilitate discussion, and any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.