Ethics Case Study of the Week: Cherry Picking Trades

By Gary Sarkissian posted 11-22-2021 08:00

CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct outline 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 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 the circumstances, continuous learning remains imperative in an evolving investment industry and an adapting regulatory environment. 

For that reason, each week we feature a sample case from CFA Institute’s Ethics in Practice Casebook.  Many cases are built upon real-life examples that may involve a regulatory matter or even a CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigation.  At the end of each 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(B) Priority of Transactions.

Cherry Picking Trades
Perkins is the co-owner and chief investment officer of Global Trading Financial (GTF). Perkins’ wife is
GTF’s compliance officer. GTF has several dozen retail clients and total assets under management of $70 million. All client assets are managed on a discretionary basis. Perkins frequently makes trades for his clients using an omnibus trading account through a broker/dealer, which allows Perkins to buy and sell securities in a block trade on behalf of multiple clients simultaneously. Perkins regularly allocates the securities purchases to individual client accounts after the market closes. Over one six-month period, Perkins allocates 75% of the profitable trades to nine accounts owned or controlled by Perkins and his wife. At the same time, 82% of the unprofitable trades are allocated to the account of the three largest GTF clients. Perkins’ actions are

 A. acceptable as long as he discloses the trade allocation practices to his clients.
 B. acceptable as long as he accurately represents whether or not he trades in the same securities as his client.
 C. acceptable as long as he reverses his trade allocation practices to favor the larger clients so that they are not harmed over the long term.
 D. unacceptable.

What do you think is the correct answer?  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 relates to CFA Institute Standard VI(B): Priority of Transactions, which states that investment transactions for clients have priority over personal transactions. By trading in the firm’s omnibus account and then delaying allocation of trades to a specific account until he has an opportunity to observe the security’s intraday performance, Perkins is able to cherry-pick the winning trades for accounts in which he has a beneficial interest. This is a violation of Standard VI(B). He allocates the losing trades to client accounts that are large enough to absorb incremental, although steady, trading losses without arousing client suspicion that the losses are due to fraud.

Disclosure is not a cure for this unethical, fraudulent behavior. It is also irrelevant to the priority of transactions issue what Perkins tells his clients about whether he trades in the same securities for his personal accounts as he does for his client accounts. (Although if he claimed not to personally trade in securities being considered for purchase by clients, and did so anyway, that would be further fraud.) Finally, Perkins cannot temporarily favor his personal interests over his clients’ interests with the intent of making it up to the clients later. Ethical conduct is not subject to some ledger-keeping exercise. CFA Institute members must, and really all investment professionals should, comply with ethical principles at all times. Choice D is the best answer.

This case is based on a September 2018 Enforcement Action by the US SEC.

Image by Ulrike Leone 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.