Definition of 'Agency Theory'
A supposition that explains the relationship between principals and agents in business. Agency theory is concerned with resolving problems that can exist in agency relationships; that is, between principals (such as shareholders) and agents of the principals (for example, company executives). The two problems that agency theory addresses are: 1.) the problems that arise when the desires or goals of the principal and agent are in conflict, and the principal is unable to verify (because it difficult and/or expensive to do so) what the agent is actually doing; and 2.) the problems that arise when the principal and agent have different attitudes towards risk. Because of different risk tolerances, the principal and agent may each be inclined to take different actions. Investopedia explains 'Agency Theory'
An agency, in general terms, is the relationship between two parties, where one is a principal and the other is an agent who represents the principal in transactions with a third party. Agency relationships occur when the principals hire the agent to perform a service on the principals' behalf. Principals commonly delegate decision-making authority to the agents. Agency problems can arise because of inefficiencies and incomplete information. In finance, two important agency relationships are those between stockholders and managers, and stockholders and creditors.
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Agency theory suggests that the firm can be viewed as a nexus of contracts (loosely defined) between resource holders. An agency relationship arises whenever one or more individuals, called principals, hire one or more other individuals, called agents, to perform some service and then delegate decision-making authority to the agents. The primary agency relationships in business are those (1) between stockholders and managers and (2) between debtholders and stockholders. These relationships are not necessarily harmonious; indeed, agency theory is concerned with so-called agency conflicts, or conflicts of interest between agents and principals. This has implications for, among other things, corporate governance and business ethics. When agency occurs it also tends to give rise to agency costs, which are expenses incurred in order to sustain an effective agency relationship (e.g., offering management performance bonuses to encourage managers to act in the shareholders' interests). Accordingly, agency theory has emerged as a dominant model in the financial economics literature, and is widely discussed in business ethics texts. Agency theory in a formal sense originated in the early 1970s, but the concepts behind it have a long and varied history. Among the influences are property-rights theories, organization economics, contract law, and political philosophy, including the works of Locke and Hobbes. Some noteworthy scholars involved in agency theory's formative period in the 1970s included Armen Alchian, Harold Demsetz, Michael Jensen, William Meckling, and S.A. Ross. CONFLICTS BETWEEN MANAGERS AND SHAREHOLDERS
Agency theory raises a fundamental problem in organizationself-interested behavior. A corporation's managers may have personal goals that compete with the owner's goal of maximization of shareholder wealth. Since the shareholders authorize managers to administer the firm's assets, a potential conflict of interest exists between the two groups. SELF-INTERESTED BEHAVIOR.
Agency theory suggests that, in imperfect labor and capital markets, managers will seek to maximize their own utility at the expense of corporate shareholders. Agents have the ability to operate in their own self-interest rather than in the best interests of the firm because of asymmetric information (e.g., managers know better than shareholders whether they are capable of meeting the shareholders' objectives) and uncertainty (e.g., myriad factors contribute to final outcomes, and it...
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