Ethics in Practice: Use of Subadvisers

Category: Ethics

Country or region: Asia Pacific (Overall)

Summary:
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 65)
Reeves is the CEO and founding partner of Luxor Asset Management. Reeves provides asset management and allocation services for high-net-worth individuals and a number of small institutional clients. His services include investing client funds with third-party subadvisers who have a specialty in a particular asset class. Reeves’ clients are aware of and approve Luxor’s allocation of their assets to subadvisers. The third-party subadvisers make payments to Luxor based on the total amount of a client’s assets placed or invested in certain subadviser funds. Reeves initially sought to negotiate a direct economic benefit for clients, but the subadvisers would not agree and payments were made directly to Luxor. Reeves’ actions are

A. appropriate because Reeves has disclosed the use of subadvisers.
B. inappropriate unless Reeves discloses the financial arrangement with the subadvisers to his clients.
C. appropriate if the clients receive the ultimate benefit of the subadviser payments in the form of discounted Luxor fees.
D. inappropriate because the payments are an improper referral fee.
E. none of the above.

ANALYSIS
This case relates to conflicts of interest between an advisor and clients. CFA Institute Standard VI(A): Disclosure of Conflicts requires CFA Institute 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. The payments by subadvisers to Luxor based on the amount of client assets that Luxor places with the subadvisers create a potential conflict of interest because it incentivizes Reeves to hire those subadvisers that pay the fee to Luxor, but who may not necessarily be the best subadvisers for his clients. Reeves could mitigate the conflict by passing on any economic benefit received from the subadvisers to his clients.
Reeves initially attempted to negotiate a direct benefit for his clients, but his proposal was rejected by the subadvisers. And it is not clear from the facts that Reeves is ultimately passing the benefit on to his clients. Even if that were the case, Reeves should disclose the source and nature of the discount to clients. Reeves has disclosed Luxor’s use of subadvisers, but it seems the financial incentive for Luxor has not been disclosed. Although referral arrangements may be acceptable with full disclosure to clients, Reeves is not referring clients to the subadvisers but hiring them directly on his clients’ behalf. Choice B is the best answer.
This case is based on a December 2018 enforcement action by the US SEC.
 

Have an idea for a case for us to feature? Send it to us at ethicscases@cfainstitute.org. 


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