By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) - The number of financial services staff sacked or suspended in Britain last year for reasons such as wrongdoing reached the highest level in five years, law firm Pinsent Masons said on Monday.
Citing figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Pinsent Masons said 1,373 individuals were dismissed or suspended from financial services jobs - as distinct from those who lost their jobs through general redundancy programs - a 56 percent increase on the previous 12 months.
The finding comes after a succession of financial scandals and efforts by regulators to clamp down on misdemeanors.
Britain's Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulator, due to be replaced later this year, has for instance beefed up its efforts to tackle market abuse over the last few years, successfully prosecuting a number of high-profile insider dealing cases.
Last year also saw a string of bank scandals, including mis-selling of financial products and the manipulation of global benchmark interest rates, as well as the prosecution of former UBS
"The FSA has increasingly shown that it is cracking down on financial crime and market abuse. Financial services firms are operating under increased scrutiny and as a result employers are imposing industry rules more strictly," said Helen Farr, a London-based partner at Pinsent Masons.
"Enforcement activity has clearly had an impact on firms' willingness to tolerate wrongdoing. Firms now appear much more likely to discipline employees for offences," Farr said.
The law firm said the 1,373 total was based on changes to the employment status of individuals who have to be authorized by the FSA, and included people disciplined for poor performance or sacked for other reasons, as well as for wrongdoing.
It also said the overall number of job losses in the financial sector had reached its highest level since 2008, with 36,868 people losing their jobs last year.
That took the total number of people who had left their posts over the past five years to 177,697, it said.
Banks worldwide are shedding jobs as stricter regulations and euro zone worries take their toll on trading income and investment banking operations.
"The total number of job losses in the sector is striking," Farr said. "While it should be kept in mind that many of these people may have been re-employed and some will have simply transferred internally, the numbers certainly tell a story."
(Editing by David Holmes)