Cultivating An Ethical Culture

Accountants often find themselves in positions of leadership. As a result they are bound to be leading examples to those around them be they trainees, colleagues, clients or students. One non-technical opportunity for accountants to be leading examples is the field of ethics. Accountants, like all professionals are very well placed to be shining examples of ethical behaviour.

Apart from being well placed for this, accountants are by their very nature, trained, qualified and certified on the basis of their ethical disposition. This is because they have a clearly recognised leading role to play in society. Accountants’ role in society is expected to be one of guarding the public interest. No matter how much regulation is put in place to protect the public interest, unless regulated individuals decide every morning to commit to be guided by ethical principles, regulation will not serve to protect the public interest. Regulation can be seen as forcing us to be ethical. We can only be ethical in our behaviour towards others if we decide to choose that route. Complying with regulation because we have no choice or because we are forced to, is not the true exercise of ethics.

The true exercise of ethics comes from within each and every one of us. There is no distinction between people when it comes to ethics. This is not a matter of education or specialisation. We all have a conscience and we are all able to discern what is right and what is wrong. So our ethical behaviour depends on decision and not on learning.

Our role is to assist society; yes, to make a living assisting society. The latter does not mean only our clients. Our clients are a means through whom we serve society and not an end in themselves. We, as part of society, serve our clients, also part of society, to exercise their role towards society at large. That our clients account for transactions in an open and transparent way and they do not evade tax is a duty towards society. We are professional guardians of the rights of the public pertaining to our profession.

In exercising our day to day responsibilities in society we fill the role of leaders, we do business, we work in teams, we are empowered and we empower, we delegate, we teach, we employ, we are employed and therefore we have duties and obligations, we are faced with difficult decisions and we are responsible to take them, we advise on financial matters and we ensure that we work only within our competencies, we market and sell our services with responsibility, we defend society against money laundering and corruption, we ensure transparency. Ultimately we take full responsibility for our actions.

The world today is slowly emerging from a long crisis which is clearly the result of absence of ethical behaviour by those responsible, to the detriment of the public interest. This is a result of seeking personal good instead of common good; a result of rather than making sure that everybody benefits from what belongs to mankind, we try and possess a bigger share than we deserve. At the end of the day what is this stress all about? Certainly not happiness, which after all can only be found in being consistently considerate towards all others.

I do not expect that living an ethical life is an easy and natural way of life in this imperfect world and we all need help and enlightenment. For this purpose a group of experienced professionals have voluntarily taken the initiative to organise a free of charge course of 10 sessions from January to March 2014 during which participants will have the opportunity to share insights and experiences on the application of ethics in business leadership. I urge accountants to take this opportunity of bettering ourselves as members of society and contact the group on [email protected].

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