Ethics and Standards - Standard III-E: Preservation Of Confidentiality

Members and Candidates must keep information about current, former and prospective clients confidential unless:

  • the information concerns illegal activities on the part of the client or prospective client,
  • disclosure is required by law, or
  • the client or prospective client permits disclosure of this information.

Reasoning behind Standard III-E
Establishing a professional relationship with a client necessitates the gathering of personal information. For investment professionals, surveying a client's personal financial information is standard practice. It's a necessary prerequisite to fulfilling their jobs and establishing an investment policy statement that meets the client's risk tolerance and objectives. Of course, this discovery could reveal potentially sensitive or embarrassing issues from the past - everything from unfortunate business decisions to bankruptcy filings. Clients have an unambiguous right to privacy, as well as a right to have their personal information kept in the strictest confidence and not forwarded or revealed to a third party.

Standard III-E was developed to protect these rights, starting from the time of initial contact (prospect-member relationship) and covering the time the prospect formally becomes a client (client-member relationship). In the event that sensitive information is revealed by any employer in the course of its relationship with an employee, the same concept is expanded to protect confidentiality in the employer-member relationship.

Note that there are instances that would necessitate disclosure of a client's confidential information and which would not be considered violations of this Standard:

  • Illegal Activities - For example, if a client is involved in illicit money-laundering activities and contributing the money to a managed account at the CFA member's institution, that portfolio manager is under no obligation to protect the client's confidentiality. In fact, knowingly continuing to invest and trade such an account might expose the portfolio manager to charges of criminal activity. If illegal activities are suspected, a firm's legal counsel must immediately be consulted on how best to proceed.
  • Legally Required Disclosure - When the Securities and Exchange Commission requires certain client information to be disseminated, the CFA member is bound to abide by these regulations.
  • Granted Permission by the Client or Prospective Client - An investment manager may need to forward client information to the client's accountant for tax preparation. So long as permission is granted, the CFA member is not violating the confidentiality Standard.
  • Inquiry from the CFA Institute's Professional Conduct Program (PCP) - In the words of the Handbook (pg. 127), CFA members shall consider the PCP an extension of themselves. CFA members are encouraged to be fully supportive of PCP investigations, and to disclose any information requested in the course of an investigation. The PCP keeps all disclosed information in the strictest of confidence.

Applying Standard III-E
Keeping client information confidential is essential to building and developing a relationship of trust. On the CFA exam, cases involving this Standard are likely to test the exceptions that will require disclosures to be made.

Here are some examples of situations that may require disclosure of confidential information:

  • Settlement Agreements - In a case where a manager and client have entered into a settlement agreement, the agreement cannot be written so as to prohibit co-operation with the CFA Institute's Professional Conduct Program (PCP) in the investigation of a CFA member (i.e. investigating whether that member violated the Code and Standards). So-called confidentiality clauses must explicitly allow both the member and the client to respond to requests for information, without restriction. Failing to provide information in a PCP investigation, even if based on a confidentiality clause, subjects the member to a summary suspension under CFA Institute bylaws, and his or her right to use the CFA charter may be revoked.
  • Charitable Donation - A portfolio manager meets with a corporate client that can reduce its taxes by giving away money to charity and that has set aside $100,000 for this purpose. Would the portfolio manager violate Standard III-E by divulging to a local charity that the company has $100,000 to give away? In such a case, it would depend on whether the corporate client gave permission to the manager to reveal this information. If not, the manager would need to keep the information private and protect confidentiality.
  • Illegal Activities - A portfolio manager suspects a client of illegal activity, but has no tangible evidence to support these suspicions. The portfolio manager understands her obligation to keep sensitive information confidential, but does not wish to support anything illegal. If such a case arises, doing nothing is not an option. She is best served by seeking legal counsel and informing her supervisor.

How to Comply

  • Protect client information when received by not disclosing any gathered information to outside parties.
  • Limit the number of employees with access to sensitive information regarding a client's financial or other activities.
  • Seek legal counsel promptly if illegal activity is suspected.
  • Seek legal counsel if asked to disclose confidential information as a result of an investigation, either by the CFA Institute's Professional Conduct Program or by legal authorities. Disclosure in these instances may ultimately be required but one is entitled to legal advice to determine how best to reveal this information.
Standard IV: Duties to Employers, Standard IV-A: Loyalty
Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    How To Choose A Financial Advisor

    Many advisors display similar skillsets that can make distinguishing between them difficult. The following guidelines can help you better understand their qualifications and services.
  2. Investing

    Asset Manager Ethics: Investment Process and Actions

    Managers, in developing their investment process, need to determine some “general rules” that make it meaningful. We offer six.
  3. Professionals

    Career Advice: Financial Analyst Vs. Investment Banker

    Read an in-depth comparison about working as a Financial Analyst vs. working as an Investment Banker, two highly prestigious business careers.
  4. Professionals

    Advisors: Which Certifications Are Essential?

    The right advisor credentials can make all the difference, but wading through some 100 certifications can be a challenge. Here's some help.
  5. Investing Basics

    Asset Manager Ethics: Valuation Is A Tricky Business

    Asset managers must accurately represent all of a clients assets in the client portfolio. This can be tricky for unique and hard-to-value assets.
  6. Personal Finance

    Top 10 Most Valuable Sports Teams in 2015

    Cleats, pads and profits: we take a look at the top 10 most valuable sports teams in the world.
  7. Professionals

    Chinese Slowdown Affects Iron Ore Market

    The Chinese economy's ongoing slowdown is having a major impact on iron ore demand.
  8. Personal Finance

    Invest in Costco? First Understand Its Balance Sheet

    A strong balance sheet sets a company apart and boosts investor confidence. How healthy is Costco based on an analysis of its balance sheets from the last two years?
  9. Investing Basics

    Brokers and RIAs: One and the Same?

    Brokers and registered investment advisors have some key differences. Here's what you need to know.
  10. Professionals

    DCF Vs. Comparables: Which One To Use

    DCF and Comparables models are widely used in equity valuation. We explain the pros and cons of each method.
  1. Personal Financial Advisor

    Professionals who help individuals manage their finances by providing ...
  2. Security Analyst

    A financial professional who studies various industries and companies, ...
  3. Chartered Financial Analyst - CFA

    A professional designation given by the CFA Institute (formerly ...
  4. CFA Institute

    Formerly known as the Association for Investment Management and ...
  1. What are the differences between a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and a Certified ...

    The differences between a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) are many, but comes down ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What types of positions might a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) hold?

    The types of positions that a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is likely to hold include any position that deals with large ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do I become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)?

    According to the CFA Institute, a person who holds a CFA charter is not a chartered financial analyst. The CFA Institute ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Who benefits the most from prepaid expenses?

    Prepaid expenses benefit both businesses and individuals. Prepaid expenses are the types of expenses that are bought or paid ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. If I am looking to get an Investment Banking job. What education do employers prefer? ...

    If you are looking specifically for an investment banking position, an MBA may be marginally preferable over the CFA. The ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can I still pass the CFA Level I if I do poorly in the ethics section?

    You may still pass the Chartered Financial Analysis (CFA) Level I even if you fare poorly in the ethics section, but don't ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  2. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  3. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  4. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  5. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  6. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!