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As we now well know, Wells Fargo not only opened millions of unauthorized client accounts, but the bank also fostered a corporate culture so toxic that an astounding 5,300 employees have been fired for their involvement in the companywide multiyear scheme.

What should bother us more is that our banking regulators appear to have been in the dark the whole time.

Studies like the National Business Ethics Survey consistently show that a significant percentage of employees are aware of wrongdoing in the workplace. In the case of Wells Fargo, several employees raised concernsabout these troubling practices within the bank and suffered retaliation for doing so.

Unfortunately, these employees had little incentive and no way of safely alerting regulators without risking their careers. Unlike other financial police, banking regulators either have no whistle-blower programs that provide incentives and protections for individuals to break their silence about wrongdoing they witness, or these regulators have little-known programs with comically small awards.

While there have recently been successful prosecutions involving whistle-blowers at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and UBS, these were securities or tax-law violations, and the whistle-blowers were participating in programs of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Internal Revenue Service.

Without robust whistle-blower programs, bank regulators are like beat cops who don’t have a working 911 system. Given the financial constraints that regulators operate under and the vast market they oversee, they need help to detect, investigate and prosecute violations of our banking system. Regulators and law enforcement officials need real-time information about what is occurring inside these vast institutions. The importance of whistle-blowers cannot be overstated.

Had adequate incentives and protections for whistle-blowers been in place at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the fraud at Wells Fargo might have been stopped before it spun out of control. And those who were fired for speaking up would have had someplace to go.

A perfect model is the S.E.C. Whistle-blower Program, which was established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and which has rightly been heralded as a success. This innovative program offers eligible whistle-blowers significant employment protections, monetary awards and the ability to report anonymously. In just five years, the S.E.C. has paid out over $111 million in whistle-blowers awards.

What’s more, many of those whistle-blowers have remained anonymous, which has given confidence to others who want to come forward without risking their jobs and careers. The program also ensures that high-quality tips get the attention they deserve, something that didn’t happen in the Bernie Madoff case, for example.

Mary Jo White, the S.E.C. chairwoman, said recently that the program had been a “game changer” for the agency. Seeking to emulate this success, Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, last year introduced legislation called the Financial Frauds Whistleblower Act to establish a similar statewide program for financial crimes.

Regulators were criticized for not prosecuting enough bankers for the financial crisis, but the truth is that they didn’t have the tools at their disposal to do so. With whistle-blower programs like the one at the S.E.C., more banking violations would be detected and stopped sooner. Bank executives would be discouraged from engaging in wrongdoing and would be more likely to self-report significant violations because the probability of detection would have substantially increased. Perhaps then, the much needed culture of integrity would take root in the banking industry.

Jordan A. Thomas