The SEC announced yesterday charges against a former Citigroup investment banker who allegedly tipped his friends and family about upcoming mergers involving Citigroup’s healthcare industry clients, resulting in more than $5,000,000 in illegal insider-trading profits.

The case highlights a common insider-trading scenario: an employees uses inside information not to trade stock in his or her employer, but rather to trade stock in the employer’s clients.

In particular, privately-owned companies tend to think of illegal insider trading as a public-company problem, but often private companies and their employees are privy to information about public-company clients that can lead to insider trading concerns.

For example, the healthcare industry has a strong support industry of researchers, policy analysts, consultants, lobbyists, etc., all of whom potentially have access to material non-public information from their public healthcare clients that can be used to engage in illegal insider trading.

This raises a host of issues for private companies that service public companies, including:

  • Should we have a company policy regarding employees owning stock in our clients?
  • Should we accept stock as payment for services?
  • If an employee who knows a lot about the industry makes great stock picks in client stock, will it seem like illegal insider trading even if technically it is not?
  • If an employee pieces together a series of seemingly inconsequential non-public information and trades stock based on that information, what are the chances he or she will be accused of illegal insider trading?
  • Is there a difference between having a hunch something good will happen to the client’s stock and knowing something good will happen?
  • May an employee trade stock based on information that is technically publicly available (or would be provided by the client upon request) but was never actually in a press release?

These issues become more important as the SEC continues to step up enforcement.