Are Ethics Important For Professional Accountants?

Ethics in professional accountancy are of utmost importance. Now as the business and financial world is adopting international accounting and auditing standards, it is becoming all the more necessary to adhere to certain Code of Ethics prescribed by international and national accountancy bodies. Before arguing in favour of the topic, let’s have a look at some basic concepts:

Profession

A profession is an occupation that requires extensive training and the study and mastery of specialized knowledge, and usually has a professional association, ethical code and process of certification or licensing; for example engineering, medicine, social work, teaching, law, finance, the military, nursing and Accountancy etc. Classically there were only three professions: military, medicine and law. Each of these professions holds to a specific code of ethics and members are almost universally required to swear some form of oath to uphold those ethics, therefore ‘professing’ to a higher standard of accountability. Each of these professions also provides and requires extensive training in the meaning, value and importance of its particular oath in practice of that profession.

Accountant

Practitioner of Accountancy is known as Accountant. Qualified Accountant, Accountant, Professional Accountant or Accountancy Practitioner is a legally certified accountancy and financial expert. Accountants not only work in public practice but many of them are working within private corporations, in financial industry and in various government bodies. Accountancy (profession) or accounting (methodology) is the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities, lenders and other stakeholders and decision makers to make resource allocation and policy making decisions.

Like many other professions there are many professional bodies for accountants throughout the world. Some of them are legally recognized in their jurisdictions such as British qualified accountants including Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA or FCCA), Chartered Accountant (CA, ACA or FCA), Canadian qualified accountants such as Chartered Accountant and Certified General Accountants (CA or CGA) and American qualified Accountants such as Certified Public Accountants (CPA) etc. Some other statutory and non-statutory accountancy qualifications are Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Associated Cost and Management Accountant (ACMA), Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) etc.

In Pakistan, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan is the sole professional and accountancy body with the right to award the Chartered Accountant designation. ICAP is the member of IFAC (International Federation of Accountants, IASB (International Accounting Standards Board), Confederation of Asian & Pacific Accountants (CAPA) and South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA). The members of ICAP have reached to 4,089 as of March 1, 2007 data.

Role of Professional Accountants:

Accountants are independent business advisors. Accountants can offer an extensive range of services. Accountants can be registered auditors, can set up client’s accounting systems, can be an advisor on tax planning, or a detector of frauds and embezzlements, can do budgeting and financial statement analysis, advise clients on financing decisions, provide specialist knowledge and can help maintaining an ethical environment.

After discussing the basic concepts and role of professional accountants we are in a better position to ponder on what professional ethics is and why it is important in the field of accountancy.

Definition of Ethics

The word ‘Ethics’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word ethikos; means customs and habits. A major branch of philosophy which is the study of values and customs of a person or group and covers the analysis and employment of concepts such as right and wrong, good and evil and do’s and don’ts.

Code of Ethics:

In the context of a code adopted by a profession or by a governmental organization to regulate that profession, an ethical code may be styled as a code of professional responsibility, which may dispense with difficult issues of what behaviour is ‘ethical’. A code of ethics is often a formal statement of the organization’s values on certain ethical and social issues relating to the profession and practice of the professional knowledge. This also includes the principles and procedures for specific ethical situations.

Ethics in Professional Accountancy:

The general ethical standards of society apply to people in professions such as medicine, law, nursing and accountancy etc just as much as to anyone else. However society places even higher expectations on professionals. People need to have confidence in the quality of the complex services provided by professionals

Ethics in accountancy profession are invaluable to accounting professionals and to those who rely on their services. Stakeholders including clients, credit grantors, governments, taxation authorities, employees, investors, the business and financial community etc perceive them as highly competent, reliable, objective and neutral people. Professional accountants therefore, must not only be well qualified but also possess a high degree of professional integrity. Because of these high expectations, professionals have adopted codes of ethics; also known as codes of professional conduct. These ethical codes call for their members to maintain a level of self-discipline that goes beyond the requirements of laws and regulations. Each of the major professional association for accountants has a code of ethics.

As mentioned earlier, professional accountants can be of two types. One who work in firms or independently run those firms that provide accounting, auditing and other advisory services to clients; these are called public practitioners. Others are those who are employees of organizations and may serve as internal auditors, management accountants, financial managers and financial analysts. Regardless of the role of accountants, they are adhered to code of ethics which are applied to their professional conduct although there are some special provisions for those in public practice [Reference: Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants-International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)].

International Federation of Accountants-IFAC:

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) is a federation of all accountancy bodies throughout the world. All the major international and national associations like ACCA, AICPA, ICMA, ICAP, IASB etc are all its member organizations. The mission of IFAC, as set out in its constitution, is “the worldwide development and enhancement of an accountancy profession with harmonized standards, able to provide services of consistently high quality in the public interest” [Ref: Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants-IFAC]. In pursuing this mission, the IFAC Board has established the IFAC Ethics Committee to develop and issue, under its own authority, high quality ethical standards and other pronouncements for professional accountants for use around the world. The Code of Ethics establishes ethical requirements for professional accountants. A member body or firm may not apply less stringent standards than those stated in this Code.

The objective of setting this code of conduct is to harmonize these standards and practices on a global perspective. Public can only trust these highly professionals when it is made mandatory to observe and follow strict regulations and codes throughout the world. A professional accountant is required to comply with the following fundamental principles mentioned in this Code of Ethics:[Ref: Section 100.4 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants]

· Integrity: A professional accountant should be honest and straightforward in all professional and business relationship.

· Objectivity: A professional accountant should not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgments.

· Professional Competence & Due Care: A professional accountant has a continuing duty to maintain professional knowledge and skills at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional service. A professional accountant should act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards when providing professional services.

· Confidentiality: A professional accountant should respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and should not disclose nay such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose. This information should not be used for personal advantage by professional accountant.

· Professional Behaviour: A professional accountant should comply with relevant laws and regulations and should avoid any action that discredits the profession.

Code of Ethics defined in ‘Members Handbook’ for members of ICAP Pakistan is in conformity with:

· IFAC Code of Ethics and International Auditing Standards

· International Accounting Standards

· The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan – ICAP

· Relevant legislation

[Ref: Members Handbook-ICAP]

This Code of Ethics has discussed in detail the role of Chartered Accountants in given situations. For example there are clear directives on prohibition of acceptance of gifts, long association with clients, advertising of firm’s name exceeding prescribed limits, holding client’s monies for no sound reason, disclosure of client’s records (except ones that are allowed), acceptance of fees offered by client which is less than that prevailing in market etc.

After discussing in detail the importance of ethics in accounting profession, we are to conclude the topic with this final note that accountancy as a profession is acceptable and relied upon only when ability to exercise professional judgment based on a foundation of ethics; broad but deep technical excellence and strategic awareness are exercised by a professional accountant. Only then general public can trust the integrity of this profession.

Business Ethics for the Mindful Dance Professional

Once upon a time, a dance teacher opened her own studio down the road from her former employer’s school, taking advantage of her former teaching position to start her own studio. Sound familiar? This is an all too common story in the dance studio business and unfortunately, this is no fairy-tale.

We have all heard a version of this story or perhaps experienced it first-hand. Poaching students–direct or indirect solicitation of another’s students–is a practice that mindlessly fragments and divides the dance community. In addition to poaching students, other subtle, but just as divisive, practices include: making negative remarks about other teachers/schools, misrepresentation of the self by making false, exaggerated, or ambiguous claims, and making disparaging comparisons or references about others.

What drives otherwise enterprising individuals to engage in business practices that burn bridges, sow the seeds of deceit, and model mindless behavior?

Darwin. You heard me–Darwin is to blame. Well, not really Darwin himself, but the misinterpretation of his theories into a business context is at the root of this dilemma. When the business world adopted the neo-Darwinian philosophy of “survival of the fittest”, they unleashed a ready-made excuse for unethical action.

As a culture that witnessed the “cola wars” first hand, we picked up the idea that anything goes when it comes to business and marketing. Ethics and morals need not apply. “That’s business” they say while defending their actions. They fail to see the big picture: to look mindfully at the situation. They unknowingly hurt the larger dance profession and therefore themselves. It is a case of one’s right hand shooting one’s left and thinking this is good.

What makes one feel justified in approaching the business of dance studios in this mindless manner?

At the root of the neo-Darwinian business approach is a sense of isolation and scarcity. These teachers believe that it is “them against the world”–or, more directly, “them against the other local studios/teachers.” Add to this sense of isolation a sense of scarcity–that there are not enough students to go around–and you start to understand how one begins to rationalize why stealing students is necessary for survival. However, these twin concepts–isolation and scarcity–are illusions in the dance world.

Studios fighting over the same group of students create a negative atmosphere in the community. Parents sense this negativity and choose alternative activities for their children because they seem more wholesome: the potential young dancer takes up soccer. However, in a community where more than one dance school thrives without negativity, a greater number of students enjoy dance as an activity. This greater number of students translates down the road into a greater number of future dancers, dance teachers, and, most importantly, audience members. If dance studios stopped seeing each other so much as competitors and more as colleagues, the entire dance profession would benefit.

The solution starts as simply as making replacements: replacing mindless competition with mindful collegiality, mindless isolation with mindful interconnectedness, and mindless scarcity with mindful abundance. We must realize that the dance profession, from the smallest recreational dance class to the largest professional company, is interconnected. The entire web of the dance world is vitally linked.

For example, the dance community is rather small in comparison with the larger world of sports. There are many more children participating in sports than the arts. Rather than interpreting this as a reason to fight for resources, we should embrace a sense of abundance. There are more than enough potential students out there to sustain every school if we focus on bringing more students into dance rather than fighting over those already there. It is to the benefit of the dance profession at every level to include more of the non-dance world inside our walls rather than put up walls within our own.

So, how can we begin to break down the twin illusions of isolation and scarcity in the dance studio world and open our eyes to interconnectedness and abundance?

We need to base our actions and practices on ideals that reflect the dance world as a healthy and vibrant community rather than a dire and hopeless one that lends itself to mindless behavior. Adopting a code of ethics that reinforces a mindful and wholesome outlook will not just serve as guidelines, but also help promote a positive environment for those whom they effect.

Going forward, we all need to embrace a code of ethics that addresses these issues. The following list is nowhere near complete, but it is a place to start.

Business Ethics for the Mindful Dance Professional

In all professional and business relations, the dance professional shall exhibit respect, honesty, and integrity for themselves, clients, and colleagues.

A. Respect

A dance professional shall refrain from making negative remarks that may discredit, malign, or in any way cast reflection on the professional standing of another school/studio or teacher.

A dance professional shall refrain from making any disparaging references to, or disparaging comparisons with, the services of others

A dance professional shall refrain from publishing, or causing to be published, any notice, newspaper advertisement, or any other matter likely to damage or depreciate the reputation of any colleague.

B. Honesty

A dance professional shall accurately portray his or her qualifications or affiliations to the public especially in advertising material and avoid any ambiguity or exaggeration.

A dance professional shall refrain from portraying his or her qualifications or affiliations to the public in a way intended to deceive the uninitiated. For example: having danced a child role in the Nutcracker with a professional company and listing it as to portray having danced professionally with the company.

C. Integrity

A dance professional shall refrain from directly soliciting business from another teacher or studio by approaching, in any manner the pupil, pupils or employees of another teacher and, for any reason at all, to try to induce them to join his/her school.

A dance professional shall refrain from indirectly soliciting business from another teacher or studio by making adverse criticism against other teachers’ methods, by offering free coaching, by citing the advantages to be gained by the pupil from the change (e.g. offering roles/parts), or other similar methods.

With each of us taking responsibility for our own actions by embracing a mindful ethical base, we can co-create a healthier, connected, and abundant environment in the business of dance schools. Moreover, with all we have in common, we might just discover we make better friends than enemies.

Academic and Professional Ethics

Once a person has decided that they want to join the ranks of academia with the vision of bettering themselves and entering the professional world, the steps that they take while pursuing this vision become the code by which their future is built. The actions that are taken and the ideals which are formed during this academic tenure will often determine just how influential and respected a person can become in society, as well as the ethical code that they follow.

The philosophy of ethics can be broken down into three categories; personal ethics, professional ethics and academic ethics. Personal ethics are the basic principles and values that oversee how we get along with each other. Society has dictated that good ethics include those which impact our experiences in a positive manner when interacting with others either in a social or business manner. Anything that is negative would not be considered as socially acceptable.

Professional ethics are the personal and business behavior, values and guiding principles which have been established by organizations in order to help guide their members and help them perform their job functions according to the organization’s ethical principles.

Academic ethics are the personal behaviors of an academic community to present work that is truly their own. Plagiarism, cheating, or following the regulations are all offenses which can compromise the integrity of the facility and diminishes the academic spirit of the college experience.

The official plagiarism policy of Kaplan University can be defined as “All work done for the completion of a course must be your original work with appropriate citations or acknowledgements for any sources utilized in the completion of any coursework, project, or assignment. This includes, but is not limited to, discussion boards, computer programs, marketing plans, PowerPoint presentations, papers, and other assignments, including drafts and final versions. (Kaplan University, 2014).”

The Kaplan plagiarism policy then goes on to further identify the offenses which make up plagiarism as those which include, but are not limited to the usage of ideas, words and/or other works from their authors without their consent or credit, the purchase of a paper off of the internet for the purpose of using it as the original work of the submitter, and the submission of any paper, whole or in part, as your own – even though you did not do the actual work.

According to Lobanov-Rostovsky’s definition of plagiarism in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, (2009), “Plagiarism is traditionally viewed as a form of theft, with an emphasis on the unearned benefits – educational, financial, or professional – that the plagiarist gains by appropriating the intellectual work of another.” The paper goes on to claim that this idea of what plagiarism is simply means that none of our ideas or thoughts are actually our own, but are a regurgitation of compilations of preexisting knowledge.

The act of committing plagiarism is a very serious offense which has equally serious consequences. If it has been determined by the University that such an offense has taken place, then one of three consequences will occur. These consequences, as defined by the Kaplan Integrity Policy, are: first offense – failure of the assignment, second offense – failure of the class and, third offense – expulsion from the University (Kaplan University, 2014).

The plagiarism charges are subsequently recorded in the Kaplan University database and stay there permanently. Should a student continue to commit plagiarism, the charges will accumulate and upon the third offense, the student will be permanently dismissed from the University.

To avoid these consequences, the University has given students guidelines that they can use to follow so they can avoid committing any action which could be deemed plagiarism. Some of these ways include the Q & A Center, Live Tutoring, and various workshops, either live or recorded, the Kaplan University Writing Center (KUWC). These resources can be found inside the Academic Support Center at Kaplan University.

Personal choice is always the first recourse to becoming known as an ethical person, both in academia and in professional institutions. It is first within the academic institution where students develop their moral and ethical standards which they then take with them into their professional careers. It is up to them to then maintain a high level of honesty and integrity and their actions both within and without these careers. To do otherwise would cause others to question the policies of the institution involved.

The profession that a person chooses, where they choose to practice said profession, the actions that they take, and how they choose to practice this profession are all personal choices that are made by the individual. These personal choices have been consciously made because of the path that the student took during their academic career. It is these conscious choices which become that person’s code of ethics and is influenced by their ethical identity (Romani & Szkudlarek, 2014).

The case of the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri brings the problems behind personal choice and ethics to light. Officer Wilson had to make his own split second decision when faced with a young man who, some witnesses stated, was charging him. Since the conclusion of the Grand Jury trial, and the subsequent acquittal of the officer, there have been many different opinions raised across the country of the ethics of Officer Wilson and the St. Louis police department. The decision to shoot was simply a personal choice that Wilson made in the face of whatever peril he perceived at the time of the incident (Cassell, 2014).

If ever faced with any type of ethical question, the main thing to do in order to maintain personal ethics that conform to the expected ethics is to both fall back on the ethics taught to you during your academic and professional career. Stay up to date on what the ethics state and simply comply with the laws and rules of the day.

It is the actions and ideals which make up a person’s ethical code during his academic career that will have a lasting impact on how he or she will be viewed in the professional world. Cheating, stealing another person’s ideas, prevaricating or acting in a socially inacceptable manner will all subject an individual to untold scrutiny and negative consequences. Thus, it is by following the ideals and ethics that were exemplified during the academic career, that one can ensure themselves a positive future ahead.

References

Cassell, P. (December 08, 2014). The overlooked audiotape of the Michael Brown shooting. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/12/08/the-overlooked-audiotape-of-the-michael-brown-shooting/

Kaplan University. (2014). Kaplan University’s Policy on Plagiarism. Academic Support Center. Retrieved from https://kucampus.kaplan.edu/MyStudies/AcademicSupportCenter/WritingCenter/WritingReferenceLibrary/ResearchCitationAndPlagiarism/KaplanUniversitysPlagiarismPolicy.aspx

Lobanov-Rostovsky, S. (2009). The Death of the Plagiarist. Angelaki: Journal Of The Theoretical Humanities, 14(1), 29-39. doi:10.1080/09697250903006435

Romani, L., & Szkudlarek, B. (2014). The Struggles of the Interculturalists: Professional Ethical Identity and Early Stages of Codes of Ethics Development. Journal Of Business Ethics, 119(2), 173-191. doi:10.1007/s10551-012-1610-1