By Jeremy Morris, Associate Editor, US Daily Review.
Labaton Sucharow LLP recently announced the results of its survey of 500 financial services professionals across the United States and United Kingdom. Conducted by Populus in June, Wall Street, Fleet Street and Main Street: Corporate Integrity at a Crossroads reveals startling data on corporate ethics, the regulatory landscape, and individuals’ willingness to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. The survey is being released in conjunction with the launch of the firm’s SEC Whistleblower Eligibility Calculator, an innovative web-based tool to enable users to assess their eligibility for the SEC Whistleblower Program.
According to the survey, 24 percent of respondents reported a belief that financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful, while 26 percent of respondents indicated that they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace. Particularly troubling, 16 percent of respondents reported that they would commit a crime—insider trading—if 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,” said Jordan Thomas, partner and chair of the Whistleblower Representation Practice at Labaton Sucharow. “In this era of corporate scandals, we must refocus our energies on corporate ethics and encourage individuals to report wrongdoing—internally or externally.”
Labaton Sucharow’s survey also revealed the following:
- 39 percent of respondents reported that their competitors are likely to have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to be successful;
- 30 percent of respondents reported their compensation or bonus plan created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law, while 23 percent of respondents reported other pressures that may lead to unethical or illegal conduct; and
- 30 percent of respondents feel that the SEC/SFO effectively deters, investigates and prosecutes misconduct—despite the new leadership, record enforcement actions and new reforms; 29 percent of respondents feel the same way about FINRA/FSA.
Chris Keller, partner and head of case development at Labaton Sucharow commented: “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. For more than 50 years, Labaton Sucharow has been on the forefront of corporate governance reform. Given the results of this survey, our work is more important than ever.”
Are Whistleblowers the Answer?
As a former assistant director and assistant chief litigation counsel in the Enforcement Division, Thomas played a leadership role in the development of the SEC Whistleblower Program. The program has broad extraterritorial reach and offers eligible whistleblowers, regardless of nationality, significant employment protections, monetary awards and the ability to report anonymously. Other jurisdictions around the world are considering initiatives that encourage individuals to break their silence and report possible violations of the law.
While Labaton Sucharow’s survey found that 94 percent of respondents would report wrongdoing given the protections and incentives such as those offered by the SEC Whistleblower Program, only 44 percent of respondents were aware of this important investor protection program.
Scepticism and uncertainty about employers’ handling of claims of misconduct persist. One in five of the professionals surveyed weren’t sure of, or had serious doubts about, how their employers would handle a report of wrongdoing. In addition, in the U.S., gender was a factor in attitudes toward retaliation; 22 percent of female respondents believe that they would be retaliated against if they reported wrongdoing in the workplace, compared with 12 percent of male respondents.
Responding both to the lack of awareness of avenues to report wrongdoing and the personal challenges inherent in blowing the whistle, Labaton Sucharow has launched a first-of-its-kind SEC Whistleblower Eligibility Calculator, which may be found at http://www.secwhistlebloweradvocate.com/eligibility/. This confidential web-based tool provides potential whistleblowers with a detailed eligibility report—empowering them to make an informed reporting decision. This is the latest addition to secwhistlebloweradvocate.com, an innovative website that uses videos, comprehensive legal primers and timely blog entries to help responsible organizations establish a culture of integrity and courageous whistleblowers to report possible securities violations.
Between June 19-25, 2012, Populus conducted 250 online interviews in the U.K. and 250 in the U.S. with senior individuals within the financial services industry. The full methodology is provided in the survey’s executive summary at www.labaton.com/en/about/press/upload/ US-UK-Financial-Services-Industry-Survey.pdf.