Date posted: 2/03/2018 5 min read

Navigating ethics in the digital age

Technology is transforming the way business is done. Are you ready for the new ethical dilemmas we will face?

In brief

  • Lack of knowledge of new technologies can lead to ethics issues for accountants
  • Strong ethical principles and behaviour are even more important in the digital age
  • You can build knowledge of emerging technologies and digital issues at WCOA 2018

In the digital age, new technologies are raising ethical issues unlike any we have had to consider before.

Take self-driving cars. Who will be considered responsible when an autonomous vehicle crashes? And will the car’s decisions on the road be guided by ethics or by data?

Meanwhile, the trial use of delivery drones by Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand and by Amazon in the United Kingdom has raised questions over safety and privacy.

Ethical frameworks for technologies such as these have been piecemeal to date. Germany is the first country to establish ethical guidelines for how autonomous vehicles are programmed, requiring that they must prioritise human life above property in their decision-making. While some commercial drone operators have adopted voluntary ethics statements, the practice is not widespread.

We need ethics frameworks in place around new technologies to maintain the integrity of our values and culture for future generations.

And if you think these concerns are far removed from auditing, think again. We are already seeing technology transform the accounting landscape. As the world embraces further new technology, new ethical dilemmas will arise – and auditors will find they are not immune.

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Ethical standards are more important than ever

Under our code of ethics, we commit to maintaining a high level of trust and integrity. But does the code provide guidance on how to act if we are asked to work with an organisation that has failed to address the ethical implications of their use of a new technology?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) recently undertook a global survey of attitudes to ethics in a digital environment. The principle that respondents felt was most under threat of compromise was “professional competence and due care”.

This reflects concerns about having insufficient knowledge of a technology to assess and address its ethical implications for the accountant. For example, it would be difficult for an auditor to design and perform audit procedures over distributed ledgers without an understanding of that technology.

Given these concerns, sound ethical principles and behaviour are more valuable in the digital age than ever before. Strong ethics and conduct are key to building trust.

Why we need to stay up to date

Just as we have always kept up to date with legislation and best practices, all accountants should build their knowledge of emerging technologies so they can navigate ethical situations in the digital age.

The World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) in Sydney in November provides us with an unparalleled learning opportunity. The four-day international accounting conference, co-hosted by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, covers global megatrends that will impact accountants of today and tomorrow, including:

  • software automation
  • artificial intelligence
  • crypto-currencies
  • blockchain

It also addresses issues that arise from these technologies, such as:

  • security threats
  • fraud prevention
  • ethics
  • governance 

If we can participate the possible impacts of technology and become aware of its possible benefits to us, technological change could potentially be the most exciting and empowering opportunity ever for our profession.

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