Integrity Is Still Lost on Wall Street, Survey Finds

One in three financial executives have witnessed unethical and illegal behavior first hand.

Wall Street firms have scarcely improved their bad behavior in the nearly eight years since the financial crisis, according to a survey of 1,200 financial service professionals in the US and the UK.

Conducted by Notre Dame University and law firm Labaton Sucharow, the study found industry attitudes towards corruption remarkably unchanged—perhaps even worse—since 2012.

“The answers are not pretty,” the report said. “There is no way to overlook the marked decline in ethics and the enormous dangerous we face as a result.”

Nearly half of Wall Street executives said they believe their rivals have engaged in illegal or unethical behavior, an increase from 39% in 2012. Even worse, 34% of those earning $500,000 or more annually said they have witnessed such wrongdoing in the workplace.

“When corporate whistleblowers are prohibited, discouraged, or retaliated against for reporting crime to cops, we should all be scared—very scared.” 

The pressure to engage in illegal activities was also great, the study found, with one in five respondents feeling the need to be unethical to be successful in the current financial environment.

“Despite numerous reform efforts and severe fines levied against industry Goliaths, one-third of those surveyed do not believe the financial services industry has changed for the better since the financial crisis,” the report said.

The Wolf of Wall Street-like behavior and thinking was even more prevalent among junior employees, the survey found.

One in three respondents with less than a decade of experience said they would likely insider trade to make $10 million if there was no chance of being arrested.

“Educating a generation of young professionals—early and often—on the importance of ethics, transparency, and honesty is crucial if we wish to affect real change in the industry and avert another, perhaps more destructive, financial crisis,” the report said. 

Corporate policy and financial firm leadership were a large part of the problem, the survey found.

Some 15% of the respondents said they expected company leaders to look the other way if a top performer in the fund was earning large profits from insider trading.

Furthermore, financiers described a “proliferation of secrecy policies” aimed to prevent employees from reporting illegal or unethical action to the government. Nearly one in ten employees said they had either signed or has been asked to sign confidentiality agreements that essentially acted as gag orders.

“When corporate whistleblowers are prohibited, discouraged, or retaliated against for reporting crime to cops, we should all be scared—very scared,” said securities fraud prosecutor Jordan Thomas, a partner at Labaton Sucharow. 

Younger and more junior employees are increasingly subjected to these agreements, the survey found, with 16% of respondents saying they were actually limited by their contracts from reporting to the authorities. 

Despite increase in regulation reforms—largely brought on by Dodd-Frank policies in 2010—nearly 40% saw authorities as ineffective in “detecting, investigating, and prosecuting securities violations.”

Finally, more than a third of financial professionals said they were unaware of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program.

Read the full report—“The Street, the Bull, and the Crisis”—by Notre Dame University and Labaton Sucharow.

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