Investors around the globe have been provided multiple reasons to lose faith and trust in the operations of the financial markets over the past several years.
A recent editorial article written by renowned British economist John Kay identified key principles of conduct, which align nicely with the CFA Institute Integrity List, for regaining lost trust. And these principles especially hold true when you are a reader in Asia wanting to demonstrate your resolve to protecting the interests of clients. In his article “A ballboy, a union and a banker’s duty,” Kay provides insights on the state of fiduciary duties within the investment advisory industry. He addresses the actions of investment professionals today and is convinced that attempts to “mechanically apply principles devised to ensure that Victorian solicitors were properly mindful of the interests of widows and orphans” has not met “the objective of promoting high standards of behaviour” required within our industry.
Kay goes on to cite recent scandals of Libor fixing and the mis-selling of payment protection insurance as examples of actions that do not meet the expectations of putting ones clients’ interests first. The continued appearance of negative news each year has led to the low levels of industry trust reported in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer and the recent CFA Institute Global Market Sentiment Survey.
Although John Kay focuses on the UK while elaborating in his article, the types of scandals he mentioned are not limited to the country. In Asia, there are increasing reports suggesting that local interbank offering rates were rigged as well.
In Hong Kong, for example, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has started investigations to ascertain potential misconduct with regards to the Hibor (Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate) submissions there. In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore is reviewing the Sibor (Singapore Interbank Offered Rate) setting process more fundamentally in the wake of the Libor fixing scandals. Tokyo does not appear to be an exception here either. Last year, the Financial Services Agency in Japan initiated a review of Tibor (Tokyo Interbank Offered Rate) rate submissions.
This is on top of the numerous cases of mis-selling in Asia, for which the well-known Lehman mini-bond mis-selling case in Singapore is only one example out of many. Add to these the scandals resulting from front-running, as recently exposed in India, or the leaking of insider information as publicised in Japan last year, it should be no wonder that the overwhelming results of the CFA Institute Global Market Sentiment Survey point to deteriorating levels of trust in the investment industry in Asia as well.
Kay believes that “the reputation of finance has been degraded by the actions of a few.” And further, “if trust and confidence in financial intermediation are to be re-established, principles of loyalty and prudence are a prerequisite.”
One aspect of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct is for individuals to “place the integrity of the investment profession and the interests of clients above their own personal interests.” CFA Institute members must adhere to the Standard of Loyalty, Prudence, and Care, which places additional emphasis on the principles Kay called prerequisites to regaining the trust of clients. The guidance in the CFA Institute Standards of Practice Handbook “clarifies that client interests are paramount.” As investment professionals embrace these core principles with the recommendations they make, investor opinions will begin to change.
However, the reputations being questioned go beyond the individual advisers committing wrongdoing. Recent scandals also have broad damaging effects on the firms where the individuals worked, beyond the fines levied. To assist in re-establishing the image of the industry, firms must work to create a new culture where ethical actions are expected and not the exception.
Firms build this culture of integrity through compliance with standards promoting high ethical and professional conduct by all firm employees. When a firm enforces the commonly-held ethical principles to clients of loyalty, prudence, and care, the firms signal to their clients, employees, and peers the importance of placing clients’ interests first. It should not be a surprise that a growing number of asset management firms in Asia are considering adoption of the CFA Institute Asset Manager Code of Professional Conduct. Currently more than 840 firms are claiming compliance globally.
Restoring investor trust will not occur quickly. It will take small and consistent actions by many to erase the reputational damage caused by a few. Through working together to weed out unethical and corrupt actions, the industry can regain some of its lost reputation.
Glenn Doggett is the Director for Standards of Practice and Alexander Flatscher is Director for Code & Standards at the CFA Institute.