What It Is:
A trustee holds or manages cash, assets or a property title for a beneficiary. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiary.
Trustees play an important role for businesses and individuals. In many cases, trustees make sure that assets held on behalf of individuals or companies are not misused.
How It Works/Example:
Let's assume Company XYZ issues $100 million of bonds. Company XYZ will appoint a trustee, usually a bank, to act on behalf of the bondholders. The trustee maintains lists of the bondholders in addition to receiving and distributing interest payments. The trustee also monitors Company XYZ's compliance with the agreements and communicates with the bondholders when the issuer is not in compliance.
Why It Matters:
In our example, the trustee is effectively the go-between for Company XYZ and the bondholders (but its allegiance is to the bondholders), and the trustee receives a fee from Company XYZ for performing this role. The presence of a trustee also gives Company XYZ a single point of contact for the bondholders and eliminates a considerable amount of administrative work for Company XYZ.
As mentioned earlier, the trustee's job is to act in the best interests of the beneficiary. This responsitrusteelity is called fiduciary duty, and the trustee is legally obligated to uphold this duty. If the trustee fails to do so, they could be legally liable for damages.