If someone were to ask you what you thought was the most deceitful profession, certified public accountants would most certainly not be the first to come to mind. That is because CPAs are known and respected for their honesty. The profession goes out of its way to project that image, and there is a certain amount of truth to it. However, not all CPAs are squeaky clean and respected for their honesty. Some are quite dishonest and are putting a black mark on the image of the entire profession.
There is one area where the CPA profession has fallen short of protecting the public interest. There is a general duty that accountants owe to their clients and the other persons who are affected by their actions. Two elements compose the general duty of performance: skill and care. Another element and responsibility is owed to clients and other persons, that is that accountants should observe a standard of ethical or social responsibility.
One set of difficulties concerns ethics education's ability to instill the chosen values and to make them stick after the educational process is completed. Instruction in accounting ethics is directed at people whose character-or lack there-of-has largely been formed by the time the instruction occurs. Even those who are positively influenced by ethics instruction, moreover, may still behave irresponsibly if their careers or their livelihoods require them to act in their client's financial interest.
Recent pressure to include more ethics instruction in the accounting classroom has placed an emphasis on individuals who have a sense of moral responsibility. In accounting ethics education literature the benefits of teaching ethics have been greatly influenced by the following set of goals presented by Loeb(1988):
1. Relate accounting education to moral issues.
2. Recognize issues in accounting that have ethical implications.
3. Develop "a sense of moral obligation" or responsibility.
4. Develop the abilities needed to deal with ethical conflicts or dilemmas.
5. Learn to deal with uncertainties of the accounting profession.
6. "Set the stage for" a change in ethical behavior.
7. Appreciate and understand the history and composition of all aspects of accounting ethics and their relationship to the general field of ethics.
An emphasis on codes of conduct may result in students' failure to "develop discretion and judgment. . .which are more than simply a matter of what acts are forbidden, which are required, and which are permissible" (Whiteck, 1992, 128). Emphasis on rules may quickly become training in how to get around the rules while remaining technically legal. While students must be acquainted with professional codes of conduct as part of their preparation for a career, most researchers on ethics do not consider such material to be sufficient grounding in ethical training.
What are the consequences of these unethical behaviors? Accountants can be held liable for damages to clients and to third parties, he may also be found criminally liable for violation of securities, tax, and other laws. For criminal violations, he may be fined and imprisoned. Wrongful conduct may also result in the issuance of an injunction, which bars him from doing the same acts in the future. In addition, his wrongful conduct may be the subject of administrative proceedings by the Securities and Exchange Commission and state licensing boards. An administrative proceeding may result in the revocation of an accountant's license to practice or the suspension from practice. Finally disciplinary proceedings may be brought against an accountant by professional societies such as the AICPA.
Accountants have great responsibilities to their clients and to society. As a business major, doing research for this paper has helped to open my eyes to the many aspects of a possible career route. I have realized that it is a very trustworthy profession, held in the highest esteem by the public at large.
Loeb, S.E.:1988, "Teaching Students Accounting Ethics:Some Crucial Issues', Issues in Accounting Education 3, 316-329.
Whiteck, C:1992, 'The Trouble with Dilemmas: Rethinking Applied Ethic', Professional Ethics 1, 119-142.