Whistleblowing remains a significant area of focus for financial services regulators, who regard the way firms deal with whistleblowers as being an important barometer of culture as well as an important source of information about potential problems.

Working with leading polling provider Censuswide, Freshfields has gathered the views of over 2,500 individuals in a number of sectors including financial services and across different regions (the UK, US, Hong Kong, Germany and France) to assess their attitudes towards whistleblowing. This analysis follows similar surveys we undertook in 2014 and 2017. The comparison with the 2017 results shows how attitudes are changing, especially with the move to remote working driven by COVID-19.

The whistleblowing survey shows that there has been a decrease in the number of whistleblowers, as well as a decline in confidence with regards to support from senior management for those who do ‘blow the whistle’. Conversely, there has been an increase in the number of people who fear retaliation if they disclose information and an increase in those who would consider raising concerns directly with the authorities or the press. This is a worrying trend for employers wanting to ensure that they retain control over the investigation and reporting of any issues brought to their attention.

There is also work to be done in the financial services sector to educate employees about whistleblowing policies and procedures. While a majority of respondents thought that 'everyone would know what to do' if they had a concern to raise, there is still room for improvement. The data suggests that firms may need to focus on younger employees, as almost half of employees aged 24 and under considered that whistleblowing policies are not well publicised.  

The survey also considers how attitudes towards anonymity, financial incentives and #MeToo shape the thinking around whistleblowing. As we gathered the data during the start of the pandemic, the survey offers an insight into the possible future trends for whistleblowing as the global workforce adjusts to a significantly altered working environment.

Whistleblowing has an important role to play in identifying risk-related issues and it should therefore be high on the agenda when measuring and seeking to strengthen organisational culture. The trends emerging from our survey around employees’ willingness to speak up and their trust in their employers suggest that there is still work to do in addressing this important aspect of risk management.  

Please click here to request a copy of the full survey report.

The original version of this post can be found on the UK finance website.