On the CFA Institute’s “Future of Finance”

All hail the CFA Institute.  They are trying to inject more ethics into the market through their “Future of Finance” initiative.  I largely agree, but think they are overly optimistic in some areas.

Here are their basic ideas: http://www.cfainstitute.org/learning/future/about/Pages/statement_of_investor_rights.aspx

Here are their dreams: http://www.cfainstitute.org/about/vision/serve/Documents/integrity_list.pdf

My main problems are with the dreams.  Yes, I eventually want every investor to work with someone who has a fiduciary interest in his well-being.  But many people don’t want to take the time to find the people who have their best interests at heart.  There are many things we can overcome, but we cannot overcome the laziness of investors, both retail and professional.  This laziness is part of the nature of man; a few cure it through consistent effort, but most don’t.

To that end, some blame belongs to the unintelligent investors who barge into a market without sufficient knowledge.  That’s how it should be, because in many areas of business those that try to compete with insufficient knowledge lose vitality because they don’t know the basics of the business.

You can’t protect people from stupidity.   Fraud is another matter.  Deception is different from dumb agreement.

But here is my main challenge to the CFA Institute: where do your ethics come from? Why are they right?  Are they God-given, or merely an agreement among men?

This matters a great deal, because if it is merely an agreement among men, many men will say, “So what! Why should I listen to you?”  If they are God-given, even if men argue with them, the answer comes back from God, “You are a sinner in many ways, including this.  When will you humble yourself to me, and trust in the sacrifice of my Son, which was the largest event in history?”

Ethics aren’t neutral; people disagree about what is right and wrong to a high degree.  Even in finance, there are considerable disagreements in what is the correct behavior:

  • Active vs Passive mangement
  • Value vs Growth
  • Does Technical Analysis work?  (Is there truly a single discipline there?  I don’t think so.)

That’s a considerable reason why it would be difficult to enforce the views of the CFA Institute over the markets.  There is no commonly agreed-upon view of how the markets work.  The views of the academics are ridiculous, and do not reflect market realities. But many asset allocators trust them, even though their results are poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I largely favor what the CFA Institute is proposing.  I just think it will be hard to turn it into public policy because of the large disagreements over how finance actually works.  Also, the degree to which neglectful parties buy into the markets through the persuasion of sellers, because they won’t look out for their own best interests directly.

So, look at what the CFA Institute is up to.  They are part of the “White Hats” in the market, like me, who argue for the good of investors.  My only difference with them is that their model of the market is not fully accurate.  Nor do they understand how men can err, even with detailed ethics codes.