Ethics Case Study of the Week: When Is Scrutinizing Risk Not Enough?

By Gary Sarkissian posted 08-24-2020 08:00


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 V(A) Diligence and Reasonable Basis. 

When Is Scrutinizing Risk Not Enough?
Aaron Bouchard is a portfolio manager with discretionary control over the portfolios of more than 400 clients. Bouchard pursues a “medium risk, value” strategy for his clients, and they hire him on that basis. After scrutinizing the risk of potential investments, he makes a risk assessment for each of the securities he recommends based on the risks facing the issuer’s business. The majority of securities Bouchard invests his clients’ assets in are small-cap companies in the oil and gas sector and in commodities that he considers “medium” risk. As a result, Bouchard’s client accounts are concentrated in those sectors.  Bouchard’s actions are

A.  acceptable if he discloses his investment strategy to his clients.
B.  unacceptable because he does not exercise diligence and thoroughness in executing his investment strategy.
C.  acceptable if he maintains appropriate records to support his investment recommendations and actions.
D.  unacceptable because he does not have a reasonable and adequate basis to support his investment recommendations and actions.

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 – 8/27/2020]
Welcome back!  Here is the analysis of this case:

This case involves CFA Institute Standard V(A): Diligence and Reasonable Basis, which states that members and candidates “must exercise diligence, independence, and thoroughness in analyzing investments, making investment recommendations, and taking investment actions.” Under this standard, members must also “have a reasonable and adequate basis, supported by appropriate research and investigation” for making investment recommendations and taking investment action.  In this case, there is nothing to indicate that Bouchard’s investigation and analysis of the individual securities that he chooses for his clients’ accounts is insufficient or inadequate. 

The facts state that he “scrutinizes” the risk of potential investment on an individual basis. But in making the investment decisions, he does not appear to exercise diligence or thoroughness because he does not give sufficient weight to factors that go beyond long-term risk of the individual securities themselves. Bouchard does not consider such factors as security concentration in client portfolios, price volatility in the short term, or liquidity risk. Without considering all these factors in their entirety, Bouchard’s actions underweight the risk of the securities, likely making them a more risky investment for his clients than the “medium” risk that he has assigned. Because he does not exercise diligence and thoroughness when implementing his investment strategy, disclosing his strategy to his clients or maintaining adequate records for a faulty strategy will not cure the misconduct. In this case, the best choice is B.

This case is based on an enforcement action by CFA Institute. The member was reprimanded and fined by the regulator and CFA Institute suspended his or her right to use the CFA designation for a period of time.

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© 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.