Views on improving the integrity of global capital markets
15 December 2017

Ethics in Practice: Taking Care of Clients Is the Priority. Case for Week of 11 Dec.

CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework

Analysis now posted!

Ready for this week’s ethics case? Read on! And be sure to tell us why you picked the answer that you did.


Dougal McDermott is president of Enhanced Investment Strategies (EIS), a small investment firm. Most clients of EIS are longtime associates of McDermott who have had their investment portfolios with EIS for decades. Because of his close personal relationship with his clients, McDermott is very familiar with their investment profile, income and retirement requirements, and tolerance for risk. He keeps abreast of the life changing events (such as health issues, real estate purchases, children’s university expenses, and retirement) of all his clients and adjusts their portfolios accordingly. McDermott regularly meets with his clients in EIS offices and sees them on numerous occasions outside the office where he has a chance to give them an update on their investments. EIS clients complete a client agreement and risk profile when opening their account and those profiles are updated as McDermott finds the time to do so. McDermott’s business practices are

  1. acceptable because he adjusts client investments to ensure that they are suitable for client investment needs given their changes income and risk profile.
  2. acceptable because he regularly communicates with clients about their investments.
  3. unacceptable because he does not keep adequate written records regarding client investment profiles.
  4. unacceptable because his close personal relationship with clients will affect his independence and objectivity when providing investment advice.


The issue in this case involves record keeping. CFA Institute Standard V(C): Record Retention states that CFA Institute members must “develop and maintain appropriate records to support their investment analyses, recommendations, actions, and other investment-related communications with clients and prospective clients.” The facts make clear that McDermott is personally close to clients. Although this fact may raise fair dealing concerns (McDermott may be benefiting some clients with whom he has a particularly close personal relationship over other clients), it does not necessarily raise questions about the independence and objectivity of McDermott’s investment advice (Answer D). It also appears from the facts provided that McDermott is fulfilling his ethical obligations as an investment manager by communicating regularly with his clients (Answer B) and reviewing and adjusting client portfolios on a timely basis to meet clients’ changing financial circumstances (Answer A). But McDermott only updates client records “when he finds the time to do so” and apparently not promptly or on a regular basis. Without necessary, relevant, and up-to-date know your client information, it would be difficult, if challenged, for McDermott to establish and prove that EIS identified the needs and circumstances of the clients and has taken these into account in recommending investments. When client circumstances, investment goals, risk tolerances, or income needs change, records should be promptly updated and reviewed on a regular basis to reflect and document these changes. The correct answer is C.

This case is based on an UK Financial Services Authority enforcement action from 2010.

Have an idea for a case for us to feature? Send it to us at [email protected].

More About the Ethics in Practice Series

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 post a short vignette, drawn from real-world circumstances, regulatory cases, and CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigations, along with possible responses/actions. We then encourage you to assess the case through the lens of the Ethical Decision-Making Framework and the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct and let us know which of the choices you believe is the right thing to do and why. If you are not a CFA Institute member, you can post your choice and reasoning in the comments section below. For CFA Institute members, we would like you to join the conversation in our new Member App and post your responses there. Later in the week, we will post an analysis of the case and you can see how your response compares.

CFA Institute Member App

The Member App gives CFA Institute members access to a content from multiple CFA Institute publications, including these weekly Ethics in Practice posts. Best of all, the app allows in-app submission of Continuing Education credits, which members can earn by reading and participating in the conversation for each case. (0.25 CE, 0.25 SER). The app is available in the Apple and Google Play stores. After downloading, simply log in using your CFA Institute website credentials (e.g., [email protected] + password). Hint: Save the post to your library in the app to find it easily.

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Image Credit: ©CFA Institute

About the Author(s)
Jon Stokes

Jon Stokes is the director of Professional Standards at CFA Institute. His responsibilities include developing, maintaining, and providing interpretation on the organization’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, Asset Manager Code of Professional Conduct, and other ethics codes and standards. He has designed and created on-line ethics education programs for CFA Institute, including the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making and Giving Voice to Values education programs. Stokes has led numerous in-person and online ethics trainings for members, societies, and investment professionals and contributes to the ethics curriculum at all three levels of the CFA Program. He holds a JD degree.

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