One quarter of financial professionals say they may need to engage in shady behaviour to succeed, according to a survey released Tuesday by U.S. law firm Labaton Sucharow LLP.

The survey of 500 financial industry professionals in the United States and Britains finds that 24% of respondents say they believe that financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful.

Only 41% reported that staff within their own firm had “definitely not” engaged in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful, while 12% said it was likely that they had. Twenty-six per cent of respondents indicated that they had observed, or had firsthand knowledge of, wrongdoing in the workplace.

Additionally, the survey also found that 39% of respondents reported that their competitors are likely to have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to be successful. Thirty per cent reported their compensation plan created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law, and 23% reported other pressures that may lead to unethical or illegal conduct. Notwithstanding those pressures, 86% of respondents reported that their employers put the interests of clients first, and 84% felt their employers had fairly to very strong ethical values.

Labaton Sucharow released the results of the survey, which was conducted by a research firm called Populus, in conjunction with the launch of a new web-based tool that allows users to assess their eligibility for the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s new whistleblower program. The law firm notes that program has broad extraterritorial reach, and offers eligible whistleblowers, regardless of nationality, significant employment protections, monetary awards and the ability to report anonymously. It says other jurisdictions around the world are considering initiatives that encourage individuals to break their silence and report possible violations of the law.

The survey found that only 44% are aware of the whistleblower program, but 94% do say they would report wrongdoing given the protections and incentives offered by the program. Only about 30% of those surveyed said that they believe that regulators effectively deter, investigate, and prosecute, securities law violations.

The survey uncovered uncertainty about employers’ handling of claims of misconduct. It found 20% of respondents weren’t sure of, or had serious doubts about, how their employers would handle a report of wrongdoing. In the U.S., 22% of female respondents said they believe that they would be retaliated against if they reported wrongdoing in the workplace, compared with 12% of male respondents.

The survey also found that 16% would likely engage in insider trading to make US$10 million, if they could get away with it; and, just 55% said they definitely would not.

“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.”

The survey was conducted between June 19 and 25, and is based on 250 online interviews in Britain, and 250 in the U.S., with senior individuals within the financial services industry.