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Integrity: Still a Hallmark of Certified Public Accountants (CPA)?

Integrity is one of the essential pillars of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Code of Professional Conduct. A distinguishing mark of the accounting profession is acceptance of its responsibility to honor the public trust. Lenders, investors, government agencies, and other members of the business community rely on the integrity of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) to help preserve the proper functioning of commercial activities. Active and aspiring public accountants ought to embrace the obligation to act in a way that warrants the faith that the entire public reposes in the work they do or will do. Richard L. Schmalense, former John C Head III Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, once stated: “Without ethics, business can’t be done – or taught”.

In the wake of the resurgence of high profile Ponzi schemes and corporate frauds, it is now more important than ever to teach standards of professional conduct in undergraduate accounting and business curricula. While it may be impossible to mold every undergraduate student into a business professional that will spouse the form and spirit of ethical standards, it remains nonetheless essential to impress upon students the significance of fostering an organizational culture that values a high standard of business behavior. I personally think that the chapter on professional ethics taught in the introductory auditing course is not enough to ingrain in students’ minds the necessity of conducting their duties in accordance with professional standards. Additionally, I don’t know why anybody should wait until enrolling in a MBA program before he or she is exposed to a course on business ethics and corporate governance.

Business programs need to be reminded that repetition has a pedagogical significance. Ethical cases should be regularly discussed in each and every accounting and management course at the undergraduate level. This will ensure that business and accounting college students are adequately prepared to deal with most ethical dilemmas that could arise in the workplace.It seems to me that universities are churning out a lot of business and accounting graduates that sadly are unable to identify business situations requiring sound ethical judgment. It is about time to start putting an end to this very alarming trend.

Accounting professionals have always been held in high esteem because they are viewed as business professionals that do their work with a high degree of integrity. With more and more accounting firms being repetitively scrutinized for failing to flag some severe cases of fraudulent financial reporting gone bad, I am getting increasingly concerned with the possibility -however remote it might be- that the public accounting profession might start loosing the good reputation that so many of the earlier generations of accountants worked so hard to establish and preserve.

4 Comments

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  2. Comment by Laurice Mierzwiak:

    Great post! I hardly ever comment on blogs, but your well reasoned and thoughtful analysis of the subject just required I give you a pat on the back.

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