Date posted: 08/09/2023

Building trust: why ethics is centre stage … again

The accounting profession must be trustworthy for individual members and firms to fulfil their vital role in the economy and community.

In brief

  • CA ANZ offers micro courses on ethical training.
  • Thousands of members have engaged with CA ANZ's ethics training over the past few months as part of their continuing professional development.
  • The importance of ethical conduct training has resurged since the revelations of unethical conduct at multinational consulting firms.

Ethical conduct is core to the very notion of what it is to be an accountant, vital to ensuring the credibility of financial information, and foundational to the operation of businesses, financial markets and economies worldwide. 

Thousands of members have engaged with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand’s (CA ANZ) ethics training over the past few months as part of their continuing professional development, underlining the organisation’s pivotal role in assisting accounting professionals navigate the contemporary challenges of ethical decision-making. 

In addition, over the past year more than 2,800 attended knowledge-sharing webinars in Australia and New Zealand, which were designed to fit in with the busy schedules of our members.

This training takes on added importance after a slew of revelations of unethical conduct and conflicts of interest at multinational consulting firms in Australia and elsewhere — corporate scandals that created a political storm and led to closer scrutiny of professional codes of ethics.

The International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) said in April 2023 that it believes continuing corporate failures around the world require changes to the international code of ethics to ensure it is robust and relevant.

“A number of these events have resulted in government inquiries, significant regulatory penalties or other adverse consequences for the professional accountants or their firms, and undermined public trust in the accountancy profession,”
IESBA said.

In 2006, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (now CA ANZ) and CPA Australia established the Accounting Professional & Ethical Standards Board (APESB) as an independent body, to reflect international standards, to uphold public trust and elevate confidence in the integrity of the profession.

The APESB code of ethics obliges professional accountants to act with integrity, by being straightforward and honest; objectivity by not being compromised by bias or conflict of interest; professional competence and due care by maintaining professional knowledge and acting diligently; confidentiality and professional behavior, which includes acting in the public interest and avoiding conduct that might discredit the profession.

Practitioners and educators have long recognised that a code is not enough. Continuous education about ethical standards has taken on growing significance with new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), affecting business practices. Issues like sustainability and considerations of the public interest are also gaining urgency and prominence.

CA ANZ’s ethics course aligns with the mandatory requirement for all members to undertake ethics training. Members can access this training online, together with a range of resources and toolkits through the ethics hub on CA ANZ’s website.

This hub equips members with practical tools and frameworks to navigate the types of ethical dilemmas accounting professionals often face in their roles, such as conflicts of interest, confidentiality breaches, and pressure to manipulate financial information. It includes actual examples of how members have fallen foul of the code.

In the near future, expectations of ethical standards are only set to increase. IESBA recently released a consultation paper on its plans for 2024-2027, entitled Towards a more sustainable future: the centrality of ethics.

Key areas of focus include continuing scrutiny on aspects of auditing, the exercise of professional skepticism and professional judgment, as well as auditor independence, audit firm culture and the business models of audit firms.

As demand for sustainability information expands rapidly, IESBA says there is growing public interest in ensuring that such information is reliable and therefore subject to assurance. Digital transformation and AI are other key areas that continue to raise ethical challenges.

Completing CA ANZ’s ethics training will enable members to build their career capabilities, improve decision-making skills, enhance their reputation and increase their employability. It also contributes to elevating professional standards within the accounting industry overall.

More experienced, well-trained professionals have a particular obligation to ensure that upholding professional ethics is central to the culture of their organisation. Communicating that value frequently is an important means of deepening ethical awareness in the workplace and emphasises the need for ethical conduct. A CA well-versed in ethical judgement can play an important role in reinforcing a culture of ethics — among peers, business leaders, employees, clients and customers — as well as contributing to restoring public trust in the profession in the aftermath of financial scandals and breaches of ethical standards.

An update on PwC

An update on the CA ANZ Professional Conduct Committee investigation into the Tax Practitioners Board in its order against PwC.

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Explore our micro courses

Short flexible courses to develop your understanding of the IESBA Code of Ethics and how to apply the Code in your role.

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