Wall Street Cheating

(Photo: Fang Guo)

A new survey of 500 financial service professionals in the U.S. and the U.K. finds that 26 percent of survey respondents “had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace” and almost 25 percent “believed that financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful.”  

Depending on your worldview, you may read that previous paragraph and think, Oh my goodness, that’s outrageous! Or, conversely, you might think Only 26 percent?!

The survey further notes:

16% of total respondents were at least fairly likely to engage in insider trading if they could get away with it. Perhaps more troubling, only 55% of all respondents could say definitively that they would not engage in insider trading if they could make $10 million with no risk of getting arrested.

Again, that last sentence might seem damning to some while others might say $10 million and no risk — where do I sign?

Nineteen percent of men said they’d consider insider trading compared to only 10 percent of women. Which means, perhaps, that a) men are less honest (because they’d cheat); or b) men are more honest (because they’ll admit to a surveyor that they would cheat). And/or: remember the macho trading culture.



The only surprise in this data is that the percentage willing to cheat is so low.

Jacques LaPain

A quarter are willing to engage in wrongdoing. The other three-quarters believe that it can't be wrong if they were incentivized to engage in the behavior.

joe j

Wondering what the numbers would be if you surveyed, other occupations. Such as police or politicians or lawyers. Of course you would have to get them to agree what wrongdoing meant.


Yeah, try getting law enforcement (and anyone ivolved in the judicial system) to agree that anything they do is somehow "wrong?!". If you somehow re-instilled a sense of scruples in them, how could they live without nausea, knowing that they are in fact the real terrorists?


Let me be the first to say:

"Only 26 percent?!"

RJ Roy

"Only 26%?!"

Of course, to go with that, that's 26% of people who WITNESSED (or admitted to doing) wrongdoing. It's probably fair to say that the percentage of actual wrongdoing is higher, even if you factor in that the 26% of respondants likely includes a number of people who witnessed the same wrongdoing. Which probably makes the whole thing worse...

Carl Rosin

Unfortunately, this starts young, and starts with a culture in which the trappings of success are more honored than the act of achieving, probably because it's easy for an observer to measure ostensible success and hard for an observer to pay attention to anything long enough to assess process. So many forces to blame: organizations/schools developing foolish assessment/incentivization schemes -- Campbell's Law pointed out this problem long ago -- and some parents thinking the ends justify the means and some teachers giving meaningless work and some media promoting bad behavior. I am a teacher and parent too, and I have many friends in both camps who are raising kids with character. It can be done, given vigilance and hard work and caring -- not simply punishment.


Teaching ethics won't cut it. Fact remains, we are engrossed in consumerism and will never be satisfied because our wants keep turning into needs! We worship wealth, material, power and ego victories. Business school taught me that successful=wealthy. If I wanted to learn how to live a satisfied life instead of a glamorous life, I wouldn't spent on the business degree!


the survey creates a straw man- obviously there r laws on the books that clearly state if bankers are found conspiring in the largest financial fraud in history, then there will be mandatory sentencing which includes a minimum of 2 years...- o waiddaminute, im thinking of the penalty for a dimebag...


Perhaps the problem here is the lack of a universally shared definition of what is ethical. As with many other acts, from stem cell research to performance-enhancing drugs, a good many of us just don't see the same sort of ethical problems as others do. If I happen to be in a position to know something the rest of the world doesn't: why shouldn't I take advantage of it?


The greater the imbalance of power, the more it will be abused. Doesn't matter if it's politicians or financiers, criminals or cops, industrialists or union bosses.


I'd suggest that it's unethical to invest in McDonald's because they market directly to children. Or unethical to invest in Glaxo since they were found to be dishonestly marketing their product. Etc., etc. Shoot, you can hardly play the trading game without being unethical.

Alan Gunn

We live in a country in which it is all but impossible to go for a day or two without breaking a Federal law (fold a sheet of paper into an airplane shape and give it to someone and you've committed a felony violation of CPSIA). Our President routinely announces that he has decided not to enforce particular laws that he dislikes, like parts of the immigration laws, or the work requirement for welfare recipients, or the new health care law as applied to corporations which have pleased him enough to get a "waiver." The Secretary of the Treasury and the former chair of the House's tax-writing committee have committed tax crimes and not been charged. Nobody even knows how many Federal crimes there are any more. So why would anyone sensible get upset about insider trading, which is mostly a victimless crime anyway?


Victimless? What about the law-abiding outsider traders?


The vast majority of people would cheat if there was no possible way to get caught or found out. It's fairly simple human nature to take an advantage like that.


insider trading may be illegal, but many do not consider it unethical. This article makes the assumption that people believe illegal equals unethical.

Acting on information you have is not necessarily unethical.

Eric M. Jones.

Just finished reading "Fooling Houdini" recommended here. Nice book.

The author makes the point that scamming is everywhere. Three-Card Monte, insurance companies, police traffic tickets, pest control, carpet installation, gambling, investments, politics, schools, drug dealers, you name it...it's a scam. Our local "Italian" restaurant returns uneaten meatballs to the sauce pot in the kitchen.

An informed consumer is not enough to do the job. Neither is the 2nd amendment.

Frankly, I'd like to see a lot more perp-walks. A LOT MORE.


Which perfectly illustrates the absense of ethical absolutes. Some of us would think it unethical to waste food, while it's perfectly possible to have ethical & honest gambling games, drug dealers, etc.

Eric M. Jones.

The 1986 sex-farce "the Bosses Wife" illustrates this perfectly.

What Arielle Dombasle does with a pat of butter is TOTALLY unsanitary...but still wonderful.