Compliance policies at large financial institutions are outdated and often ignored by employees, a new survey has found.

The survey of 550 financial services professionals in London and New York found that 14% are not confident their organisation’s policies are up to date with the most recent changes to regulations issued by governments, stock markets and other institutions. One out of five survey respondents admit they have never even read their firm's policy manuals. Another 15% have read the manual at least once but do not continue to read it regularly.

“A lot of people don’t have any faith in the policy manuals,” says Paul Johns, chief marketing officer for Complinet, a compliance vendor that conducted the survey. “You’re talking about one in five people in a highly regulated market... not reading the one way the firm chooses to communicate the corporate policies to you.”

Even the biggest firms have up to a three-month lag between the date of an external rule change and the date it's reflected in company policy, Johns says. Rules change all the time: for example, Johns says the New York Stock Exchange recently dropped the upper limit on the proper value of gifts and entertainment.

“These things happen almost on a daily basis. A corporate policy manual has got to reflect the latest changes,” Johns says.

While some employees neglect to read manuals because they are not confident in their timeliness, others simply feel they are too busy, that the policy manuals are not available in a convenient way or that they don’t need to know every regulatory nuance, Johns says.

Not knowing the rules, of course, can lead to heavy fines. Johns says he thinks the self-reported numbers found in the survey may be lower than the actual numbers. Companies will have a tough time convincing regulators they are doing everything they can to comply when it appears they’re not keeping employees up to date, he says.