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Investment Advisers: The Independent Duties of Care and Loyalty

Key Takeaways

  • Recent SEC guidance has clarified that the investment adviser duties of care and loyalty are separate, independent duties.
  • A reasonable interpretation of the SEC and Staff guidance is that the satisfaction of one will not satisfy the other–both must be individually satisfied.
  • As a result, the SEC appears to be saying that, even if a conflict is disclosed, that does not, in and of itself, satisfy the duty of care. For example, if an adviser discloses that the adviser will receive compensation related to an investment decision or recommendation, e.g., revenue sharing, but the revenue sharing share class of a mutual fund is more expensive for the investor, the duty of care may be violated even though the duty of loyalty was satisfied.

There appear to be conflicting views of whether an investment adviser’s duty of care can be satisfied by disclosures that satisfy the duty of loyalty. That is, if an adviser discloses the receipt of additional compensation from investments or service providers, can the adviser then recommend or select that investment even though it may be more expensive for the client?  In recent years, the SEC has issued guidance that seems to answer that question…and the answer appears to be “no.” Based on its 2019 Commission Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, and the two 2022 SEC Staff Bulletins, the position of the SEC (and of the Staff) is that the duties of care and loyalty (together referred to as the duty to act in the best interest of investors) are separate and distinct, and that they each must be independently satisfied.

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