Views on improving the integrity of global capital markets
18 October 2018

Ethics in Practice: Elderly Investors. Case and Analysis–Week of 15 October

CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework

Check out the analysis to see how you did in analyzing this week’s case (15 October) and determining which CFA Institute Standard was involved.


Kinner is an investment adviser with a number of elderly high-net-worth clients. One of her clients, Abbott, an 87-year-old globally well-known photographer, has been Kinner’s client for more than 30 years. She visits Kinner’s offices regularly to discuss her investment portfolio. Over the past several visits, Kinner has noticed that Abbott has increasing difficulty communicating and seems to be confused about concepts and ideas that she formerly was familiar with and able to understand. Abbott also appears significantly physically diminished. Lately, she has been accompanied by her grandson who describes himself as Abbott’s caregiver.

During her most recent visit, Abbott asks Kinner to move a portion of her assets into some speculative investments and to withdraw a significant amount of funds so that she can invest in a bakery that her grandson is opening. Abbott assures Kinner that these are her wishes, stating, “I have talked about these changes with my grandson, and we are sure these are good investments.” Kinner is alarmed by Abbott’s new investment directives, believes Abbott’s physical and mental health may be declining, and suspects Abbott has been improperly influenced by her grandson, who is taking advantage of Abbott’s wealth. Kinner does not make the changes to Abbott’s portfolio that Abbott requested. Instead, Kinner reports her concerns to a government agency charged with administering assistance to the elderly and infirm, as permitted by applicable law. Kinner’s actions are

  1. inappropriate because Kinner should have contacted a close family member or trusted professional, such as Abbott’s attorney or accountant, about her concerns regarding Abbott’s apparent decline.
  2. appropriate because Kinner is working to protect Abbott’s interests and is following applicable law.
  3. inappropriate because Kinner is violating her duty of confidentiality under the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct by discussing Abbott’s investments with the government agency.
  4. appropriate if Kinner speaks separately with Abbott’s grandson in his role as Abbott’s caregiver to advise against changing the investment directives.


This case involves CFA Institute Standard III(E): Confidentiality, which requires CFA Institute members to keep information about clients confidential unless the information involves illegal activities, the client permits disclosure, or disclosure is required by law. This requirement can become problematic if an investment professional suspects that a client’s mental faculties are failing and thus believes it is necessary to consult with outside parties. A best practice for investment advisers is to establish a secondary contact at the beginning of the client arrangement. The client provides permission for the investment professional to contact the designated person should concerns arise about the client’s ability to make informed financial decisions.

In the absence of such an arrangement, investment professionals may make limited disclosures pertaining to the existence of a client account and concerns about the vulnerability of the client as directed by applicable law. Regulatory or government agencies often provide resources for intervening when such concerns arise. These entities have the authority to properly investigate the situation of the investor. CFA Institute members who are following applicable law regarding permitted disclosures are not in conflict with their obligations under Standard III(E). But speaking with other third parties, such as Abbott’s attorney, accountant, or grandson, about confidential information in Abbott’s account would violate Standard III(E). Choice B is the best answer.

This case is based on new guidance on providing services to vulnerable clients under CFA Institute Standard of Professional Conduct III(E): Confidentiality, which was recently released by CFA Institute.

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

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. The Ethics in Practice series gives you an opportunity to “exercise” your ethical decision-making skills. 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 using the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework and through the lens of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct. Then join the conversation and let us know which of the choices you believe is the right one and explain why. Later in the week, we will post an analysis of the case and you can see how your response compares.

Image Credit: ©CFA Institute

About the Author(s)
Jon Stokes

Jon Stokes is the Director of Ethics and Standards Education at CFA Institute. His responsibilities include design and creation of on-line ethics education, development and maintenance of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, and the design and management of the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making and Giving Voice to Values education programs. Stokes holds a JD degree.

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