One of the requirements for Certified General Accountants is continuous learning and upgrading.
In view of that, one of the requirements of continuous learning and upgrading is to take a mandatory ethics seminar or some sort of ethics training every three years.
I think that this requirement is unique to CGAs and I hope that this requirement passes over to the professional development requirements when we all merge together as Chartered Professional Accountants.
I know that all CGAs probably don’t share my view. Many probably think, “How dare they (the association) tell me how to run my business.’”
But I think it is just as easy if not easier to run an ethical business than an unethical one.
I like to sleep at night, so if I were to run an unethical business, I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I’d be too busy worrying about the monkey on my back.
After taking the course this year, I thought that there must be a way to promote this to businesses in general, so I’ve done a bit of research.
The first step appears to be to develop a code of ethics for the business that outlines some business practices that you will follow.
A good start is with a mission statement and then to expand on that.
Most businesses would probably include a code indicating that they would deal honestly with customers, vendors and each other.
Perhaps another code would indicate that there would be fairness and respect in all dealings.
Perhaps another might state that there would be a fee structure that is to be followed.
The code of ethics outlines the general code of conduct of the business.
Then, the next step would be to create some policies and procedures to determine how the business would meet the nature of the code.
The most important way of making a code work is by using it and that needs to come from upper management.
If the business has a code, but the owner never follows it, what do you think the likelihood that the employees would follow it would be? Probably not many, if any.
So business owners need to lead by example.
If you have pictured yourself leading in a certain kind of ethical business, you now need to act ‘as if’ so that your attitude will be passed onto your employees.
Usually if there is a bad attitude in a company or a department of a large organization, that attitude originated with the management. So that attitude will need to be changed by management before the company or department will improve.
The next step would be training. You need to let your staff know what your code of ethics is and give them training on the various ethical issues that they may encounter in their position.
Of course it’s not possible to anticipate every issue, but if you provide a framework for the employee to work with, then it becomes easier for them to solve ethical dilemmas.
For example, CGAs follow a five-step ethical decision framework.
The first step would be to identify the problem, determining how your code of ethics was breached and what the issues and potential issues of the breach are.
The second step is to identify the stakeholders. Who is involved and how they might get hurt by the breach.
The third step is to specify feasible alternatives meaning that you need to try to determine what all the possible solutions to this problem might be—no matter how bizarre.
The fourth step is to decide which of the possible solutions presented in the previous step would be in the spirit of your code of ethics.
Step five is to make and defend your choice.
Always document what you decided and how you got there.
Some of us when faced with these ethical dilemmas would just wish that they would go away and solve themselves, but that is rarely the case.
If you hope something will just go away, it will probably just re-appear later on in something that is even a larger problem, so it’s best to deal with these issues as they arise. Again, it is a matter of sleep.
I have no knowledge as to which professional bodies use or have a code of ethics, but I do challenge every one of them to review their code and uphold it.
For me, being a CGA and following the CGA Code of Ethical Principles and Rules of Conduct (CEPROC) has become so insidious to me, now it has become an almost automatic part of my entire life and not just my business life.