What Is the Principal-Agent Relationship?

What Is the Principal-Agent Relationship?

3 Min.

A principal employs an agent to represent them and look out for their interests. This is common in situations such as an investor hiring a fund manager or someone seeking legal representation from an attorney. If there is a conflict of interest between the two, it can create a principal-agent problem. However, ideally, there should be no such conflict. The relationship between a principal and agent can be established through a written contract or through actions.


Agency law governs a crucial arrangement where one entity legally designates another to represent its interests. Known as the principal-agent relationship, it ensures that the agent acts solely in the best interests of the principal without any conflicting motives. This legal framework provides essential guidelines to maintain a harmonious and effective bond between the principal and the agent.

What Is the Principal-Agent Relationship?

Formal contracts often involve a principal-agent relationship, which is essential for many transactions. Take, for instance, an investor who purchases shares in an index fund; the investor assumes the role of principal while the fund manager becomes the entrusted agent. The agent's primary responsibility is to skillfully manage the fund, composed of multiple principal assets, to optimize returns while considering the prescribed risk level outlined in the fund's prospectus.

Agents execute assigned tasks with utmost proficiency and care, ensuring no intentional or negligent misconduct occurs. Any competent parties engaged in legal transactions can forge the principal-agent relationship. Although a simple instance may involve an individual principal delegating a task to an agent, other scenarios encompass corporations, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or partnerships as the principal.

Agents typically embody individuals who possess the requisite understanding and capability to execute the assigned tasks on behalf of the principal. Examples abound, from engaging a contractor for home repairs, retaining legal counsel for professional advice, or enlisting an investment advisor to diversify a stock portfolio. In each instance, the principal seeks specialized services or guidance while the agent, a seasoned professional, fulfills their entrusted role.


The principal-agent relationship, whether explicitly established through written contracts or implicitly through actions, gives rise to a fiduciary connection between the parties involved. This entails that the agent, acting on behalf of the principal, is bound to prioritize the principal's best interests. With reasonable instructions provided by the principal, the agent assumes responsibility for accomplishing assigned tasks while ensuring no intentional harm befalls the principal. Within this framework lies an inherent duty of loyalty, demanding that the agent avoid situations that generate or promote conflicts of interest with the principal, also known as the principal-agent problem.

Principal-Agent Relationship