Ethics Case Study of the Week: Going to Dinner and Karaoke after Investor Presentation Is OK, Right?

By Gary Sarkissian posted 09-21-2020 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 I(B) Independence and Objectivity. 

Going to Dinner and Karaoke after Investor Presentation Is OK, Right?
David, an analyst for an asset management firm, attends a presentation for securities analysts at the headquarters of a manufacturing company. The analysts are very impressed with the presentation and ask the CEO many questions. After the meeting, the Head of Investor Relations invites all analysts to a club house for dinner and karaoke. Most of other analysts accept the invitation. Of the choices below, what do you believe David should do?

A.  Accept the invitation.
B.  Accept the dinner but not karaoke.
C.  Accept the invitation but disclose the invitation to his supervisor.
D.  Reject the invitation.

What do you think is the correct choice?  Click the "Analysis" button below to see the analysis, and feel free to discuss in the comments below.  The completion of this case qualifies for 0.25 hour of Standards, Ethics, and Regulation (SER) credit

The ethical principle at issue in this case is independence and objectivity. The question turns on whether David compromises his independence and objectivity as an analyst by accepting an invitation to dinner and karaoke from representatives of the manufacturing company that he is researching. CFA Institute professional conduct Standard I(B) states that CFA Institute members “must use reasonable care and judgment to achieve and maintain independence and objectivity in their professional activities” and must not “accept any gift, benefit...or consideration that reasonably could be expected to compromise their...independence and objectivity.” So, would dinner and a night of karaoke reasonably be expected to compromise David’s independence and objectivity? The appropriate course of action turns on how extravagant the benefit might be. Modest gifts and entertainment in the ordinary course of sociable business interaction may be unlikely to sway an analyst’s opinion.

Choice A assumes that the dinner and karaoke is not extravagant and would have no impact on David’s opinion of the company. But we need more facts to ensure that is the case. Cultural context should also be considered when making a decision. Dinner and karaoke may be modest and tame in some cultures but more extensive and extravagant in other settings. Awareness of cultural sensitivities and expectations are very important, especially for those who may be working outside of their familiar home region. Choice B attempts to steer a middle ground by having David only accept part of the entertainment, which may lessen the threat of a compromised analysis by reducing the benefit. In practice, this may be awkward to do and the dinner itself could still be extravagant.

Choice C also attempts to compromise by suggesting David could accept the dinner/entertainment as long as the gift/benefit is disclosed to the employer, seemingly mitigating the potentially problematic conflict of interest. But for disclosure to be effective it must be adequate. There is no indication that David will disclose the benefit to the clients who will read David’s research report. They will therefore have no indication that the analyst writing the report was given a nice dinner and potentially fun-filled night on the town by the subject of the report. Best practice would suggest that David reject the invitation (Choice D) to avoid any question about his honesty and integrity.

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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.