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The Atlanta Fed


Guynn Discusses Economic Costs of Ethical Lapses

For immediate release: April 11, 2005

GUYNN DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COSTS OF ETHICAL LAPSES

BRIDGEWATER, Va. — Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Guynn spoke today about the economic costs of poor ethical conduct in the workplace while emphasizing the need to make ethics a habit in all organizations. “The ability to provide leadership in ethics is more important than ever,” he said.

Speaking to the Scott Symposium on Business Ethics at Bridgewater College, Guynn discussed the broad scope of ethical challenges that have surfaced since 2001. “The picture of business ethics that has emerged over the past few years isn’t very pretty,” he said, noting that between 2002 and 2004 the Securities and Exchange Commission brought some 1,300 civil cases against businesses and obtained orders for penalties in excess of $5 billion.

“Creative accounting” and other ethically dubious business practices have eroded the public’s trust in financial markets and weakened stock values, Guynn said. But he said the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has helped to restore trust and credibility in the marketplace. “I am optimistic that business leaders are becoming more accountable and are getting the message about ethics,” he said.

But Guynn added that the new legislation has imposed substantial costs in terms of extra paperwork and lost opportunities. “The burden [of additional compliance] is being carried by the vast majority of businesses in our country that have always played by the rules,” he said.

Guynn stressed, however, that there’s a limit to what our society can do to foster ethical behavior in business, noting that an ethical and trustworthy business environment requires individual responsibility and strong commitment from business leaders.  “Our first line of defense in preserving trust in our market economy should be a culture of ethics in all our organizations,” he said. “We must continually strengthen and, when necessary, repair our ethical foundation to ensure trust in our financial markets and business enterprises.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta serves the Sixth Federal Reserve District, which encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. As part of the nation’s central banking system, the Atlanta Fed participates in setting national monetary policy, supervises numerous commercial banks and provides a variety of financial services to depository institutions and the U.S. government.

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