Ethics Case Study of the Week: Valuing Assets and Calculating Fees.

By Gary Sarkissian posted 12 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 V(B) Communication with Clients and Prospective Clients. 

Valuing Assets and Calculating Fees.
Maalouf works in a branch office for a large wealth management firm. The firm’s fees are based on a percentage of the value of the assets managed in each client account. The firm has a standard method for valuing assets and calculating fees for all of its clients, which is disclosed to each client at the outset of the relationship. Over time, the firm transitions to (1) using the market value of client assets at the end of the billing cycle instead of the average daily balance of the account; (2) including assets in the fee calculation, such as cash or cash equivalents, that were previously excluded; and (3) charging clients for a full billing period rather than prorating fees for clients that start or terminate accounts mid billing period. Maalouf

A.  cannot use end-of-cycle valuations, include cash equivalents, or charge full fees for a full billing cycle for partial cycle accounts.
B.  can change the valuation and fee calculation methodology as long as actual fees charged to clients are lower.
C.  must notify clients of the changes in the valuation and fee calculation methods.
D.  cannot change fundamental elements of the client relationship, such as valuation and fee calculation methodology, once it is disclosed to the client.

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

This case involves Standard V(B): Communication with Clients and Prospective Clients, which requires CFA Institute members and candidates to disclose to clients the basic format and general principles of the investment process. Advisory fees are a critical part of the investment management process. Developing and maintaining clear, frequent, and thorough communication with clients allows them to make well-informed decisions about their investments, including about whether to engage or retain an investment adviser.

Any changes to the methods for valuing assets or calculating fees that are different from the process set out and agreed to by the client must be disclosed. It is improper to change fee calculation methodology without disclosure even if it results in lower fees. Using end-of-cycle valuations, including cash equivalents, or not pro-rating fees for newly acquired or terminated clients are possible methods for calculating fees as long as those policies are disclosed and agreed to by the client. It is also permissible to change valuation and methodology and fee calculation policies overtime for existing accounts. Maalouf and his firm can negotiate with their clients about changing the methods for calculating fees that were originally disclosed. So, the best answer is C, Maalouf must notify his clients of the changes in the valuation and fee calculation methods.

This case is based on a US SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations Risk Alert.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

© 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.