Ethics in Practice: Political Expression 

Category: Ethics

Country or region: Asia Pacific (Overall)

If the headline above sparked your interest, you are one of the thousands of honest, ethical, and well-meaning investment professionals who want to do the right thing when it comes to fulfilling your professional responsibilities. But sometimes the proper course of action is not always straightforward and obvious. To help with those situations, CFA Institute provides guidance through its Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct (Code and Standards) as well as an Ethical Decision-Making Framework. But just as you need to practice to become proficient at playing a musical instrument, public speaking, or playing a sport, practicing assessing and analyzing situations and making ethical decisions develops your ethical decision-making skills. To promote “ethical exercise,” we are excited to introduce Ethics in Practice.
Each week, we will post a short vignette, drawn from real-world circumstances, regulatory cases, and CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigations, along with possible responses/actions (see below). Later in the week, we will post an analysis of the case and you can see how your response compares! Stay tuned!

We then encourage you to assess the case through the lens of the Ethical Decision-Making Framework and the Code and Standards and let us know which of the choices you believe is the right thing to do and why by using the comment field below.

(Week 64)

Ziegenthaler is an analyst and trader for a large global asset management firm. The president and CEO of the firm is a legendary figure in the investment industry and appears regularly on global financial television programs as a commentator. Videos of these appearances routinely show the CEO sitting in the firm’s trading room with the traders’ workstations featured in the background. Ziegenthaler’s workstation and computer screen are often clearly visible during the CEO’s television appearances.
In addition to working as an analyst for the firm, Ziegenthaler is a passionate supporter of an animal rights organization that protests the use of animal fur and hides by the fashion industry. During the CEO’s next television appearance, and unnoticed by the program’s producers, Ziegenthaler pulls up a graphic anti-fur poster on her computer screen so that it can be seen by viewers. Several of the firm’s clients, including members of the family of a prominent fashion house, are offended by the graphic and complain to the firm. Ziegenthaler’s actions are

A. inappropriate because she was using employer resources without permission.
B. inappropriate because her actions reflected poorly on her professional reputation or integrity.
C. appropriate because she is free to express her personal views on a topic unrelated to work.
D. appropriate because her actions did not cause financial harm to her employer.
E. none of the above.  

This case relates to the professional conduct of an investment professional and her duty to her employer. CFA Institute Standard of Professional Conduct IV(A): Loyalty (to employer) requires CFA Institute members to act for the benefit of their employer and not cause harm to their employer. In addition, Standard I(D): Misconduct states that CFA Institute members must not commit any act that reflects adversely on their professional reputation or integrity. As a general matter, investment professionals are free to voice and act on their political beliefs outside of their work environment. Standard I(D) is not meant to curtail freedom of expression or address conduct (or even acts of civil disobedience) in support of personal beliefs as long as that conduct does not reflect poorly on the member’s professional reputation or competence.
Ziegenthaler’s beliefs related to animal rights, in and of themselves, are not related to her professional competence and do not reflect poorly on her reputation or integrity. But in this case, Ziegenthaler surreptitiously uses resources and a platform made available to her through her employer to express and promote her views. These actions caused her employer at least some reputational harm with its clients, as evidenced by their complaints. As a result, Ziegenthaler’s actions are inappropriate. Choice A is the best answer.

Have an idea for a case for us to feature? Send it to us at 

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