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Financial services report finds ‘widespread disregard for ethics’

20 May 2015

Financial services report finds ‘widespread disregard for ethics’ - read more

A survey of more than 1,200 professionals in the UK and US financial service sectors has found a worrying disregard for ethics and the protection of whistleblowers.

The survey, a collaborative effort by the University of Notre Dame and law firm Labaton Sucharow, polled 1,223 professionals from the financial services sector in the UK and US. Those surveyed represented ‘a broad spectrum of the industry, from young professionals to senior executives’.

The findings indicate a significant disregard for ethics. 47% of those surveyed believed that their competitors were likely engaging in unethical or illegal behaviour in order to gain an edge. This figure has increased from 39% in 2012.

Respondents were also found to have little trust in their fellow employees, with 23% thinking it likely that their colleagues had engaged in unethical activity. This is nearly double the 2012 figure of 12%. More than one third of respondents earning over $500,000 per year said they had witnessed wrongdoing firsthand.

Many of those surveyed were not averse to acting unethically themselves, with nearly 1 in 5 feeling that it is sometimes necessary to take part in illegal or unethical actions in order to succeed. A quarter also stated that they would probably engage in insider trading to make $10 million if there was no chance of them being arrested.

The survey also showed worrying results for whistleblowers, with 19% of respondents believing that their employer would retaliate against them for reporting wrongdoing. In the UK alone, this figure increased to 24%. In addition, 21% of employees in the UK said that their company’s confidentiality policies and procedures bar the direct reporting of unethical or illegal activity to law enforcement or regulatory authorities.

Ann Tenbrunsel, Professor of Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business and co-author of the survey, highlighted a disappointing lack of change in the results when compared with previous surveys. She said: ‘Despite significant energy and efforts, it appears we need to continue to think about how to improve the culture of ethics in the financial services industry…’

There were however some positive results. 61% of financial services professionals felt that authorities in their country were somewhat effective in detecting, investigating and prosecuting securities violations. 89% also indicated a willingness to report wrongdoing if provided protections and incentives such as those given by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Whistleblower Program.

Jordan A. Thomas, Chair of the Whistleblower Representation Practice at Labaton Sucharow and co-author of the report, said: The SEC Whistleblower Program and other similar programs have effectively deputized all of us to report possible violations of law… Responsible organizations would be wise to redouble their efforts to establish and maintain a culture of integrity—where doing the right thing and speaking up are the norm.’

The full survey can be found here.

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