Ethics Case Study of the Week: Good Advice to Move Retirement Funds?

By Gary Sarkissian posted 7 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 I(C) Misrepresentation.

Good Advice to Move Retirement Funds?
Urquhart is a financial planner for AKC, which runs a large network of financial planners. AKC compensates its planners based on the number of sales of AKC products. Urquhart advises a husband and wife to roll their retirement funds, which combined are worth $125,000, from one service provider into a single AKC investment fund that follows a large-cap equity strategy. Urquhart discloses to the couple that they will have to pay a penalty totaling $30,000 for closing their accounts, but they will make up this loss with better investment returns from the AKC product. Urquart’s actions are

A. acceptable if the AKC product is suitable for the couple.
B. unacceptable because he is promising a specific rate of return.
C. acceptable because he fully disclosed the negative consequences of closing their accounts.
D. unacceptable unless the performance history of the AKC product supports his statement about future returns.

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 CFA Institute Standard I(C): Misrepresentation, which states that CFA Institute members and candidates must not knowingly make any misrepresentation related to investment analysis, recommendations, or actions. This standard prohibits making any statements promising or guaranteeing a specific rate of return on volatile investments. Even if the AKC product is suitable for the couple, it is an equity-based investment that is inherently volatile. Urquhart cannot make promises about future returns, even if the historical performance return would have reached the performance goal. Although he fully discloses the negative consequences of transferring their assets to the AKC product, that disclosure does not mitigate the inappropriate statement about future expected returns. Therefore, the best answer is B. As an aside, this case also raises questions about whether advising the couple to take such a significant loss in their retirement savings would be in their best interest and whether Urquhart’s independence and objectivity is compromised because he is influenced to make such a recommendation by the compensation scheme of his employer.

This case is based on details coming out of a 2018 regulatory inquiry into the practices of financial services company AMP in Australia.

Image by 3D Animation Production Company 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.