A recent report from ACCA, Ethics in a Covid-19 world has laid bare the extent to which professional accountants feel their ethics are a risk of compromise as 20 per cent of respondents to a recent survey has either directly or via a work colleague encountered a situation where, as a result of covid19, ethics were at risk of compromise.
Furthermore, among those who experience such situations, a quarter of issues related in some way to the use of technology.
Looking ahead over the next two years, one member in five expects to encounter a situation where they, or someone they know, could be ethically compromised. This reflects an awareness of and alertness to potential risks and how ethics will continue to be a key priority in the future.
The report outlines the types of ethical challenges that professional accountants are likely to face, including self-interest, self-review, advocacy, familiarity and intimidation threats. In relation to covid19, the report identifies eight areas where professional accountants could experience ethical challenges:
• Time-constrained decision making
• Remote working
• Reducing staff size
• Assurance services
• Presentation of financial information
• Increase in fraud
• Ethics across the supply chain
• Facilities management
But the report also indicates how professional accountants have seen their role as trusted advisers enhanced during the crisis. As Stephen Heathcote, CEO of international accountancy group PrimeGlobal said, "A positive impact of the pandemic has been our enhanced role as trusted providers. However, some businesses are fighting to survive, so this can create an objectivity risk as our members have built strong relationships with their clients. Being a qualified professional accountant makes us different – so it is vital to follow the code of ethics."
The report’s author, Narayanan Vaidyanathan, ACCA’s head of business futures, said: "For accountancy and finance professionals, ethics has always been at the core of the profession but in times of pressure, it is all the more important. Ethics isn’t a new agenda for accountants, but covid19 certainly has created new challenges, which can create the risk of compromise to ethical behaviour.
"While everyone is responsible for ethics, leaders have a key role to play because tone from the top really matters. Organisations look to their leaders to demonstrate authentically ethical, values-based leadership and transparency – doing so creates a cascading positive effect through the organisation."