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Professional Standards Research

Professional obligation, ethical awareness and capital market regulation: An achievable goal or contradiction in terms?

The global financial crisis revealed significant limitations with the capacity of industry codes of conduct to address ethical deficiencies, prompting a professionalisation agenda. The capacity of the traditional professions to embed restraint has been brought into question, in part because of a conflation between market norms and professional obligation.

In this paper, Professor Justin O’Brien:

  • Assesses the role of codes of conduct as a mechanism to embed higher professional standards
  • Evaluates the tension between the articulation of standards and the process of standard setting
  • Explores the relationship between industry-based and formal regulatory oversight.

Using evidence obtained by comparing approaches to financial regulation in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, Professor O’Brien finds an emasculated conception of responsibility has done much to tarnish reputation and legitimacy. He argues that attempts to enhance market integrity will fail unless the toxic effect of market norms on the traditional professions is addressed.

About the author

Professor Justin O’Brien is Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Law, Markets and Regulation at UNSW Law, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, and a Visiting Fellow at the Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He is a specialist in the dynamics of financial regulation, with a particular emphasis on the intersection between regulatory form and purpose.

Prior to entering academia, Professor O’Brien was an investigative journalist for a range of national and international broadcasters, including the BBC. He writes frequently on global financial regulation for the Australian Financial Review.