Although financial services executives overwhelmingly recognise the importance of ethical behaviour in the industry, there is still a significant gap between that belief and the industry’s practices, a study released by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by CFA Institute.

The study, A Crisis of Culture: Valuing Ethics and Knowledge in Financial Services, shows that strengthening culture based around driving integrity and financial knowledge across firms is a priority for the financial services industry.

Despite the importance placed on creating a stronger ethical culture since the financial crisis, a serious disparity still exists when it comes to executives’ recognition that adhering to those higher standards will help earn trust, foster career progress and support financial performance.

Although 91% of survey respondents placed equal importance on ethical behaviour and financial success, more than half (53%) think career progression at their firm would be difficult without being "flexible" on ethical standards, and just 37% believe that their firm’s financials would improve if the ethical conduct of employees improved.

The study also looked at the critical issue of knowledge in the industry. Whilst 97% of respondents said that they are well qualified for their own role, 62% admit that their colleagues know very little about what goes on in departments beyond their own.

This shows that a silo culture is pervasive in the industry, with departments acting unilaterally rather than viewing themselves as part of the wider business, suggesting integrated functional and management approaches to risk-proof organisations remains weak.

John Rogers, CFA, president and CEO of CFA Institute, said: "CFA Institute sponsored this study in order to take the temperature of the financial services industry as we begin to emerge from the financial crisis. The results show that the industry has further to go on its journey to drive up ethical standards and embrace professional education. It also shows signs of a shift in culture by recognizing the benefits of global ethical standards and industry knowledge, and addressing agency issues. If we are to move the industry forward it is incumbent upon everyone within the industry to align their personal and organizational values with those that serve client, shareholder and societal needs. Aspiring to adopt these values will create more resilient firms and a stronger future for finance."

Statistical Highlights:


  • 91% of financial executives support the notion that aspiring to a globally recognised set of ethical standards would make the financial services industry more resilient
  • 67% of firms have raised awareness of the importance of ethical conduct by all employees
  • 53% of financial services executives say strictly adhering to ethical standards inhibits career progression at their firm

Financial Knowledge

  • 62% of financial executives don’t know what is going on outside their department
  • 60% of financial executives highlight gaps in employees’ knowledge as a significant risk for their firm
  • 59% of financial executives agree improving knowledge of the industry as a whole would help make their firm more resilient
  • 12% say they are confident in their knowledge of the global regulatory environment