Survey: Shocking number of financial pros say unethical behavior is key to success

Dollar sign in nest

"Wall Street" and "unethical" have been used in the same sentence a lot lately.

But here's one more reason it's hard to trust the banks and investment firms we depend on to manage our savings.

A new survey on corporate ethics has turned up some disheartening results from 500 financial services professionals across the United States and United Kingdom.

According to the survey, 24% of financial services professionals believe that unethical or illegal behavior is a key factor in success. And 26% said that they had already observed or knew of misconduct in the workplace.

If that's not enough to rock your boat, 16% of respondents indicated that they would commit a crime, if they could get away with it -- think insider trading.

And the major institutions employing these professionals aren't helping the matter. In the survey, 30% of professionals reported that compensation or bonus plans create pressure to engage in wrongdoing. Another 23% of respondents pointed to other pressures that would encourage misconduct.

This, of course, comes in the midst of a global economic crisis and the LIBOR-rigging debacle.

"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.

It should be noted that Labaton Sucharow, the law firm that sponsored this survey, has a practice dedicated to representing corporate whisleblowers. So it has a dog in this fight.

But the survey shows how cautious we need to be when dealing with the major Wall Street banks and stock brokerages.

These financial institutions always seem to put themselves first. Savers like us always come in second.

It’s a shame that we still have to worry about the honesty of the financial service industry four years after a financial crisis driven by its greed and deception nearly wrecked the global economy.

I'm hoping that surveys like this one will send a wake-up call to Wall Street, but I'm not holding my breath. I'll be keeping a close eye on my money. How about you?