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Integrity on Wall Street? Ha!

By Dian Vujovich

Trust counts in the financial world big time. But is it alive and well on Wall Street today? Not really if you believe the results of one survey.

According to a recent survey of Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs)—they’re those well-educated folks who often sell you product and manage your money— concerns have surfaced about ethics and integrity in today’s market place.

During the first quarter of this year, some 2000 CFAs participated in the 2009 Financial Market Integrity Index (FMI) survey. The purpose of the survey, (the CFA Institute sponsors it), was to gauge things like the levels of integrity, the ethics of market participants and the effectiveness of market systems in six different markets around the globe.

When comparing last year’s results related to the United States with this year’s, a couple of things become clear. First, ratings for corporate boards and corporate executives dropped the most from 2008 to 2009. Second, only 49 percent of in-market respondents would recommend investing in U.S. markets (in 2008 it was 68 percent). Those outside the United States rated regulatory and investor protections lower this year than they did in 2008. Finally, a large number of them seemed to have lost faith in America’s market systems.


But wait, there’s more.

When it came to rating ethical behavior of U.S. money managers —like buy-side analysts, hedge fund managers and everyone else in between– the results weren’t exactly pretty either: The group that lost the most ground from 2008 to 2009 again were those sitting on corporate boards of public companies; hedge fund managers’ ethical behaviors scored the lowest in the lot; and pension fund managers the highest.

Write-in responses blasted the compensation structures of board members and executive management. One respondent wrote: “Public companies seem to be run for the benefit of management not shareholders. Management almost always acts as if they are the company. Directors fail in their fiduciary duties to shareholders. Management is more interested in managing larger companies, making themselves more important and wealthier at the expense of shareholders.”

So what’s an investor to do?

Don’t be a pansy. Wall Street needs your money to survive and so do you. So along with making sure you’ve investigated the qualifications of the financial pros you’re working with, and clearly understand the ins and outs of the investments you’ve made, write the president, chairman of the board and COO of the companies you’re a shareholder of. And the SEC, members of Congress or your state representatives and let them know that you’ll happily take your money out of the market if the shenanigans that have given various companies and Wall Street a bad name lately aren’t cleaned up. After all, money hidden at home lasts a lot longer than money stolen by people wearing suits.

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