Ethics Case Study of the Week: My Brother is Your Financial Advisor

By Gary Sarkissian posted 03-08-2021 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 e volve 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 VI(A) Disclosure of Conflicts. 

My Brother is Your Financial Advisor
Joyce works as a research analyst at a private equity firm. Her personal investments are managed by her brother Neville, who works as a financial adviser. One day over lunch, Joyce’s colleague, Roger, mentions to Joyce that he is looking for a financial adviser and asks Joyce who she uses to manage her investments. Joyce tells Roger that Neville is her investment adviser, but she does not disclose that Neville is her brother. After meeting with Neville, Roger hires him to manage his considerable assets. Neville regularly pays a €5,000 referral fee to his current clients who recommend new clients to his firm. Neville offers to pay his sister the €5,000 referral fee. Joyce was unaware of the potential referral fee and refuses to accept the money from her brother given their relationship. Did either Joyce or Neville violate the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct?

A. Neither Joyce or Neville violated the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct.
B. Only Joyce violated the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct.
C. Only Neville violated the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct.
D. Both Joyce and Neville violated the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct.

What do you think is the correct choice?  Click the “Analysis” button below to see the analysis for this case, 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 potentially involves the CFA Institute standards related to conflicts of interest. Standard VI(A): Disclosure of Conflicts requires members to “make full and fair disclosure of all matters that could reasonably be expected to impair their independence and objectivity or interfere with their duties to their clients, prospective clients, and employer.” Does either Joyce of Neville have a conflict they need to disclose to Roger?

It is possible that Joyce is recommending Neville to Roger because he is a close family relation and not solely because of his abilities as an asset manager. But she could also not want Roger to feel pressured to hire Neville just because he is her brother. Also, the discussion between Joyce and Roger is personal rather than professional in nature. Roger is not a client or potential client for Joyce, but rather they are just colleagues having a friendly discussion over lunch. Roger is not seeking investment advice. But even though Joyce’s actions in this particular scenario do not violate Standard VI(A), it may be prudent for Joyce to make such a disclosure at the outset. If Roger learns of the brother–sister relationship, he may feel that Joyce withheld important information from him. She could potentially still find herself on the receiving end of a complaint, especially if things later sour between Neville and Roger. One would hope that, in the interests of transparency and to promote her personal relationship with a colleague, Joyce would let Roger know that Neville is her brother.

As for Neville, there is no required disclosure to Roger under Standard VI(A) because the fact that Roger was referred to Neville by his sister does not present a discernible conflict on the part of Neville. Another thing to look at is Standard VI(C): Referral Fees. This standard requires members “to disclose to their employer, clients, and prospective clients any compensation, consideration, or benefit received from or paid to others for the recommendation for products of services.” The facts indicate that Neville had a referral fee arrangement in place for his current clients when they referred his services to others. But in this particular case, Neville’s sister Joyce was unaware of the potential payment and turned down the referral fee when it was offered. So, Joyce was not influenced by a potential referral fee arrangement. If Neville had paid the referral fee to Joyce, he would have had to disclose this fact to Roger. But because no fee was paid, Standard VI(C) is not implicated. As a result, the best answer is choice A, which is that neither Joyce nor Neville violated the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct.

Case facts supplied by Tanuj Kholsa, CFA, CAIA.

Image by Free-Photos  from Pixabay  

© 2019 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.