Risk & Compliance

Does Gordon Gekko Still Rule on Wall Street?

Nearly seven years after the global financial crisis, "a culture of integrity has failed to take hold" on Wall Street, finds one survey.
Matthew HellerMay 27, 2015
Does Gordon Gekko Still Rule on Wall Street?

Wall Street still has a long way to go to clean up its act despite post-crisis reforms including enhanced protections for whistleblowers, according to a new survey of finance professionals.

Far from a new culture of integrity prevailing on Wall Street, nearly one in five respondents questioned by the University of Notre Dame and the law firm Labaton Sucharow believe that financial services professionals must at least sometimes engage in illegal or unethical activity to be successful.

And 47% of respondents found it likely that their competitors have engaged in unethical or illegal activity in order to gain an edge in the market — up from the 39% who felt the same way when surveyed in 2012.

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“Most disappointing is the lack of change in many of the results when compared [with] surveys from previous years,” co-author Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, said in a news release. “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 and most likely, in other sectors as well.”

As The New York Times reports, the survey suggests “many of the lessons of the crisis still haven’t been learned” despite the stringent new rules, like those of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul in 2010.

An alarming 22% of respondents said they have observed or have first-hand knowledge of actual wrongdoing in the workplace. On an individual level, a quarter of those surveyed say they would likely engage in insider trading to make $10 million if there were no chance of being arrested.

The survey suggests incentives may be a part of Wall Street’s problem. Nearly one-third of respondents believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their company could incentivize employees to compromise ethics or violate the law.

As for whistleblower protections, 28% of respondents earning $500,000 or more per year and 16% of all employees say their company’s confidentiality policies and procedures bar the reporting of potential illegal or unethical activities directly to law enforcement or regulatory authorities.