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A report from Wall Street indicates there is a shocking lack of integrity among the workers in financial firms.

The survey of 500 senior finance professionals in firms in the United States and Great Britain shows that 24 percent say they may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful in their jobs.

Additionally, 26 percent say they have observed or have firsthand knowledge of wronging in the workplace. Most troubling, 16 percent of those financial professionals admit they would commit a crime such as insider trading if they thought they could get away with it.

“When misconduct is common and accepted by financial services professionals, the integrity of our entire financial system is at risk,” says Jordan Thomas, a partner in Labaton Sucharow, a New York law firm specializing in whistleblowers. Labaton Sucharow commissioned the survey. “In this era of corporate scandals, we must refocus our energies on corporate ethics and encourage individuals to report wrongdoing – internally or externally.”

Financial services workers account for less than 5 percent of all workers in California, yet their services are crucial to the entire economy. Without a sound and ethical financial services foundation, every other economic sector in the state would be subject to corruption and possible collapse.

Our society’s financial system is based on trust and integrity. When one piece is corruptible – such as this survey suggests the financial services business has become, everything else is shaken to the core.

Labaton Sucharow’s survey also reveals that 39 percent of respondents believe their competitors are likely to have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to be successful, which places pressure on them to follow suit. Another 30 percent of those surveyed believe their compensation or bonus plans create pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law and 23 percent say other pressures exist that may lead to unethical or illegal conduct.

“It is shocking that four years after the global economic crisis began there continues to be a fundamental lack of integrity in the financial services industry,” says Chris Keller, head of case development at Labaton Sucharow.

This is an important study. Various regulatory and law enforcement agencies have been investigating financial industry corruption in recent years, yet there have been hardly any charges or firings among the executives of the financial services industry.

These findings show that unethical behavior permeates all segments and job classifications in that industry and the leadership of the industry must be held accountable for allowing this to exist.

The flipside of this issue is even more disturbing. The longer this behavior is tolerated or untended, it has a ripple effect through every industry and – eventually – into every workplace.

The scary part about this survey is that individuals are admitting their lack of ethics and integrity. That is a powerful force and an attitude that must be corrected on an individual-by-individual basis before the financial services industry can claim success over the problem.

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