As a candidate in the CFA Program, you are both expected and required to meet high ethical standards. This reading introduces ideas and concepts that will help you understand the importance of ethical behavior in the investment industry. You will be introduced to various types of ethical issues within the investment profession and learn about the CFA Institute Code of Ethics. Subsequently, you will be introduced to a framework as a way to approach ethical decision making.
Imagine that you are employed in the research department of a large financial services firm. You and your colleagues spend your days researching, analyzing, and valuing the shares of publicly traded companies and sharing your investment recommendations with clients. You love your work and take great satisfaction in knowing that your recommendations can help the firm’s investing clients make informed investment decisions that will help them meet their financial goals and improve their lives.
Several months after starting at the firm, you learn that an analyst at the firm has been terminated for writing and publishing research reports that misrepresented the fundamental risks of some companies to investors. You learn that the analyst wrote the reports with the goal of pleasing the management of the companies that were the subjects of the research reports. He hoped that these companies would hire your firm’s investment banking division for its services and he would be rewarded with large bonuses for helping the firm increase its investment banking fees. Some clients bought shares based on the analyst’s reports and suffered losses. They posted stories on the internet about their losses and the misleading nature of the reports. When the media investigated and published the story, the firm’s reputation for investment research suffered. Investors began to question the firm’s motives and the objectivity of its research recommendations. The firm’s investment clients started to look elsewhere for investment advice, and company clients begin to transfer their business to firms with untarnished reputations. With business declining, management is forced to trim staff. Along with many other hard-working colleagues, you lose your job—through no fault of your own.
Imagine how you would feel in this situation. Most people would feel upset and resentful that their hard and honest work was derailed by someone else’s unethical behavior. Yet, this type of scenario is not uncommon. Around the world, unsuspecting employees at such companies as SAC Capital, Stanford Financial Group, Everbright Securities, Enron, Satyam Computer Services, Arthur Andersen, and other large companies have experienced such career setbacks when someone else’s actions destroyed trust in their companies and industries.
Businesses and financial markets thrive on trust—defined as a strong belief in the reliability of a person or institution. In a 2013 study on trust, investors indicated that to earn their trust, the top three attributes of an investment manager should be that it (1) has transparent and open business practices, (2) takes responsible actions to address an issue or crisis, and (3) has ethical business practices. Although these attributes are valued by customers and clients in any industry, this reading will explore why they are of particular importance to the investment industry.
People may think that ethical behavior is simply about following laws, regulations, and other rules, but throughout our lives and careers we will encounter situations in which there is no definitive rule that specifies how to act, or the rules that exist may be unclear or even in conflict with each other. Responsible people, including investment professionals, must be willing and able to identify potential ethical issues and create solutions to them even in the absence of clearly stated rules.