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ShareAction 'suspicious' of attempts to show fiduciary duty as moral code

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  • ShareAction 'suspicious' of attempts to show fiduciary duty as moral code

UK – The UK's responsible investment lobby group ShareAction has warned against any attempts to view fiduciary duty as a form of conduct for asset managers, stressing that the duty remains a concept defined under common law.

Speaking with IPE after the Investment Management Association's chief executive Daniel Godfrey told a conference in March that improved fiduciary standards would lead to lower asset management fees, Christine Berry said she welcomed that the industry was beginning to debate the importance of fiduciary duty.

However, ShareAction's head of policy and research struck a more cautious note about Godfrey's other comments – whereby he sought to frame fiduciary standards not as a legal term, but as a "moral code, a way of behaving, a form of conduct".

Berry said that she was "not completly clear" what form fiduciary duty could take, apart from the currently understood legal concept.

"To me, fiduciary duty is a legal concept," she added. "I have to say that I'm slightly suspicious of efforts to separate debate about fiduciary standards of care from that legal concept, because I think that can become very slippery."

Berry nonetheless stressed that it was a "major step forward" to see the issue debated at all, and said she was very pleased to see it happen.

ShareAction, previously known as FairPensions, has in the past called on asset managers to "rediscover" their fiduciary duty, while Berry herself has spoken of the need for asset managers to address conflicts of interest that may arise when managing assets on behalf of a pension fund's beneficiaries.

Commenting on the Law Commission's recently announced consultation on how interpretations of fiduciary duty may be hampering long-term investment, Berry said she welcomed the explicit reference to sustainable and long-term investing within the commission's terms of reference, set by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

 "That is really the nub of the concerns that we've had with current interpretations of the law," Berry noted.

"Hopefully that means the Law Commission will be addressing the problem that Professor Kay identified and that the review is supposed to be designed to addressed," she said, referencing John Kay's UK government-sponsored report on long-term investing published last year.

Asked about another of ShareAction's long-standing campaign issues – whether fiduciary duties could be transferred from trustees to fiduciary managers – Berry said she was uncertain if the Commission would have time to address the issue in the time it had, but said she expected consultation responses to highlight the problems inherent in the current system.

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