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Agency Theory


Agency Theory is a concept in finance and economics that explores the relationship between two parties: a principal (an individual or organization) and an agent who represents the principal in transactions. It addresses issues such as the conflicts of interest between the two, often because of the risk and effort involved in the transaction and their shared interest in maximizing benefits. This theory is essentially used to understand and resolve such conflicts in a business environment.


The phonetics of “Agency Theory” is: /ˈeɪdʒənsi ˈθiːəri/

Key Takeaways

  1. Principal-Agent Relationship: Agency theory is primarily concerned with resolving problems that can exist in agency relationships; that is, where one party (the principal) delegates work to another (the agent), who performs that work on behalf of the principal. The theory strives to address issues such as the risk of an agent acting in their own interests rather than those of the principal.
  2. Importance of Incentives: Agency Theory highlights the importance of designing effective incentive systems and contracts to align the interests of agents with those of the principals. Incentives and risk-sharing are often used as solutions to avert problems related to self-interest, risk aversion or discrepancy in goal alignment.
  3. Information Asymmetry Problem: One key aspect of agency theory is the concept of information asymmetry, where one party has more or better information than the other. This can cause two main problems – adverse selection, which is the condition before the transaction occurs, and moral hazard, which is the condition after the transaction. Agency theory provides a lens to address these issues.


Agency Theory is a significant concept in business and finance as it underlines the relationship between principals (shareholders) and agents (managers). This theory helps in understanding and resolving issues that may arise from potential conflicts of interest between these parties. Agents, who are given authority to operate on behalf of principals, may not always act in the best interests of the principals. Such divergence can result in what is known as the agency problem. Therefore, understanding Agency Theory is important because it can assist in structuring contracts and designing effective organizational systems that align the interests of both agents and principals, fostering a more harmonious and productive business environment.


The purpose of Agency Theory primarily lies in understanding and resolving conflicts that may exist in business relationships, especially when the desires or goals of the principal and agent are not in alignment. This theory forms an integral part of Corporate Governance where it is utilized in understanding the complicated relations between shareholders (owners/principal) and, company management or directors (agents). Agency Theory helps in creating measures like incentive schemes and performance metrics, conducting regular audits, and implementing strong communication systems to achieve alignment in the interest of principals and agents.Consider an example where a company’s shareholders (the principals) rely on the company’s management (the agents) to handle business operations. If the management focuses primarily on personal benefits rather than shareholders’ profits, it results in an agency problem. Thus, Agency Theory is practiced to create an equilibrium where both the principal and the agent can achieve their goals, or at least agents work in the best interest of principals. In essence, Agency Theory is the foundation for business mechanisms that control or limit the self-serving actions that may come from divergent interests in a principal-agent relationship.


1. Corporate Governance: In corporations, the owners (shareholders) are the principals and the management team are the agents. The main aim of the shareholders is to maximize their wealth, while the management might have other, potentially conflicting, goals such as increasing their personal power, job security, or the size of the corporation. This discrepancy can lead to a misalignment of interests, which agency theory aims to resolve or minimize. Strong corporate governance policies are one method of accomplishing this.2. Real Estate Transactions: In a real estate transaction, the home buyer may hire a real estate agent to find a suitable property. The agent is then expected to act in the best interest of their client – the buyer. However, the agent could also be inclined to close the deal fast to get their commission without proper negotiation or thorough inspection. This is a situation in which the principles of agency theory apply: To ensure alignment, it’s typical that the agent signs a contract promising to act in the client’s best interest.3. Investment Firms: In an investment firm, financial advisors (agents) are hired by investors (principals) to manage their wealth for returns. However, the advisors might be incentivized to make high-risk investments or recommend products that yield them higher commissions. This is an example of the principle-agent problem in agency theory. To overcome this, regulatory standards, like fiduciary duties, require the advisors to act in the best interests of their clients, and compliance guidelines and audits are enforced to ensure this.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Agency Theory?

Agency Theory is a business term that describes a relationship between two parties, including a principal (such as a shareholder) and agent (like a company’s management team) who conduct business on behalf of the principal. It focuses on resolving issues arising from the diverging interests and asymmetry of information between the two parties.

How does Agency Theory apply to businesses?

In a business context, Agency Theory is often used to describe the relationship between shareholders and company managers. Shareholders, the principals, hire managers, the agents, to run the business on their behalf. However, managerial decisions may not always align with shareholder interests, leading to agency conflicts.

What is the agency problem?

The agency problem, sometimes called principal-agent problem, arises when there is a conflict of interest between a principal’s and agent’s objectives due to factors such as misaligned incentives, asymmetric information, or differing risk appetites.

How can Agency Problems be mitigated?

Agency problems can be reduced through various means, including proper incentive structures, monitoring systems, and corporate governance principles. For example, managers’ compensation can be tied to company performance to align their interests with shareholders’.

What is information asymmetry in Agency Theory?

Information asymmetry refers to the condition in which one party, often the agent, has more or better information than the other party, often the principal. This can lead to conflicts in the agency relationship, as the agent could act in their own interest leveraging that information.

Why is Agency Theory important in corporate governance?

Agency Theory is a driving force behind corporate governance principles. It influences the structures and mechanisms set in place to align the interests of management with those of shareholders, and to facilitate swift resolution in cases of potential conflict.

How does Agency Theory impact financial decisions in a company?

Agency Theory can have considerable impact on a company’s financial decisions, as managers may favor short-term returns (to enhance their own performance metrics) over long-term shareholder value. Corporate governance measures and appropriate incentive structures are instrumental to ensure alignment between management decisions and shareholder interests.

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