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Being ethical means having the moral courage to act no matter what

Ethics, integrity, trust and professionalism continue to be topical across many sectors, industries and professions, including accounting.  

Being ethical means having the moral courage to act no matter what
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Being ethical means
  • Contributed by Vicki Stylianou
  • March 20, 2020
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From the IPA’s perspective, we are seeking to encourage and enhance professionalism across our membership and the broader profession. We do this through various measures including providing members with technical tools and resources, conducting quality assurance reviews, undertaking CPD audits, enforcing the Code of Ethics (APES 110) and a wide variety of measures required by the Professional Standards Councils.

As a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the IPA encourages members to consider and learn from the insights provided by IFAC. In December 2019, IFAC released its paper by Kevin Dancey, Fighting Corruption Requires Accountants to Act: Here’s How. The paper concludes with remarks that all accountants, and indeed all professionals, should live by: “…with a clear set of principles, a plan for action, and the will to act, we can fight back and stand up for the public interest.  Professional accountants have a big role to play and a great opportunity to lead. Seizing that opportunity is essential to fulfilling the profession’s commitment to ethics and the public interest”.  

The point about the “will to act” raises the issue of moral courage. At a recent ethical dilemmas panel that I was moderating as part of the IPA Queensland Public Practice Summit, the issue of moral courage was raised. It is one thing to have professional and ethical standards, which must be applied, monitored and enforced, however, each one of us must also possess the moral courage to make what can at times be difficult decisions. As professional accountants you may face ethical dilemmas where, for instance, you may feel like turning a blind eye rather than reporting a colleague, but your professional and ethical duty is to report the wrongdoing. This requires an act of moral courage, where you must act even when you know it will result in a bad outcome.  

It is interesting to explore the notion of moral courage further. There is considerable academic research on why some people perform heroic acts of altruism and compassion while others stand by and do nothing.  For instance, why do firefighters risk their lives, as in the recent Australian bushfire crisis, to save the lives and property of people they’ve never met. The research indicates that these people have a particular altruistic perspective that makes them see the world differently and where they see themselves as bound to others through common humanity.

Not everyone needs to be an altruist, but as professionals we must always act professionally and ethically, not just when dealing with clients or in the context of our employment, but at all times. Even though many members and accountants would protest that of course they always act ethically, it is important to know what this means; and that includes having the moral courage to act ethically no matter what the consequences might be.  

Vicki Stylianou, group executive, advocacy & technical at the IPA

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