Research carried out within The Business School on accounting ethics has made a major contribution to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW ) – one of the world’s premier accounting bodies. Through membership of its Ethics Standards Committee and collaboration with ICAEW staff, this research has brought a unique academic perspective to the ICAEW ’s promotion of professional ethics, helping to shape its ethics agenda for over 140,000 members in over 160 countries and informing a new ethics examination for aspiring Chartered Accountants.
First academic link to the ethics committee
The University of Huddersfield’s involvement with the ICAEW ’s ethics agenda began with the P.D. Leake Lecture to Chartered Accountants, regulators and policy makers, delivered in 2007. The lecture was widely disseminated online throughout the ICAEW network and paved the way for the lecturer, Professor Chris Cowton, to become the first academic to be invited onto the Ethics Standards Committee.
Literature highlights a lack of focus
In addition to providing a practical perspective on whether ethics ‘pays’ and the effectiveness of codes of practice, the research for the P.D. Leake Lecture reinterpreted existing literature on the sociology of professions, resulting in new insight into the responsibility of a professional body not only to develop and adhere to ethical standards, but also to aspire to be a ‘moral community’, and the points of influence, or roles, by which accountants can influence general business ethics.
Building on the review of literature, focus groups involving partners and other senior professionals were held. It was found that, whilst there is a strong focus on ethics in financial reporting and auditing, especially in terms of independence and scepticism, less attention has been paid to the ethical challenges of accountants who work in other roles – who form the majority of the profession.
Keeping these challenges on the agenda of professional bodies is not only vital for the profession itself but also, given the influence of accountants, for the ethics of businesses and other organisations.
Informing new learning programmes for future accountants
The insights developed from the research have also informed the new Ethics Learning Programme (ELP), which is expected to be taken by up to 5000 aspiring Chartered Accountants a year as a requirement for gaining professional membership. Bringing academic research about business and financial ethics into the heart of an internationally recognised professional body is helping to ensure that accountants can fulfil their professional responsibilities in an increasingly complex, dynamic and challenging business environment.