The Power of One in Hong Kong
CAs must have the moral courage to do the right thing, said ICAS Chief Executive Anton Colella at a recent ICAS event in Hong Kong.
Speaking at the Power of One event, held with the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), Anton stated that to restore confidence in the accounting profession, CAs must accept their personal responsibility to behave ethically at all times.
But he warned that doing the right thing could sometimes be very difficult. He pointed out that every scandal and corporate failure started with one person, at one moment, making the wrong decision.
He said: “When you are being ethical, you have to exercise the ‘Power of One’. You as an individual have to accept personal responsibility in small things and in big things.
“This is something of the heart as much as something of the head.”
Making a stand
ICAS launched the Power of One initiative two years ago to provide members with the resources and support they need when facing ethical dilemmas.
Anton reminded the audience of the five fundamental ethical principles CAs must abide by, namely: integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour.
But he warned them that the biggest obstacle they faced in being totally objective was themselves.
“Greed, wealth, promotion, ambition, fear, insecurity, being objective costs,” he said. “It is very difficult to be ethical today. To be ethical will cost you everything.”
He added that since ICAS first launched the Power of One initiative, he had received many phone calls from members who were coming under pressure to do something they knew was wrong.
“If you have not faced it yet, believe me you will face it soon...” he said, promising that when a CA took a courageous moral stand, ICAS would stand with them.
“You are not alone and you should be supported in that decision."
Also speaking at the event, James Barbour, Director of Technical Policy at ICAS, advised CAs to always maintain their professional skepticism.
He said: “Don’t always take everything you are given at face value. You need to take everything in context. One of the important things with ethical dilemmas is the ability to think things through.”
He added that, when ICAS looked at the accounting scandals of the past, it was clear that embedding the proper culture was essential to mitigating the risk of these scandals happening again.
“Culture is a big issue. Improved corporate governance is absolutely essential, as well as having a proper tone at the top.”
He also stressed that while there was a need for greater transparency in a number of areas and whistleblowing procedures are important, things should be dealt with long before they got to that level.
If you don’t have the moral courage to act and do the right thing, the five ethical principles have failed.
“People need to accept personal responsibility and professional accountants need to be able to exercise ethical leadership and seek to influence the behaviour of others,” said James.
He further commented that regulators and rules of conduct could only achieve so much, and then it was up to the individuals to behave ethically.
He said: “ICAS recognises the power of every individual CA to be able to influence those around them, to be able to illustrate they can exercise personal responsibility and ethical leadership, to show that they will exercise moral courage and that they are concerned about their reputation.”
James concluded that moral courage must be the enabler supporting the five ethical principles of accounting. He said: “Having looked at all of the ethical case studies, the missing piece of the jigsaw was moral courage.
“If you don’t have the moral courage to act and do the right thing, the five ethical principles have failed.
“Moral courage is to exhibit fortitude and determination, to exert professional scepticism to challenge others who are behaving inappropriately and to resist the exploitation of an opportunity for private benefit.”
Bribery in business
Raphael Ding, Chief Executive of HKICPA, said he thought accountants working in business were particularly vulnerable to unethical behaviour.
He said: “In the business world, where making money is the top priority, accountants are often judged by how they hide, rather than disclose the truth.”
He added that the recent EY Global Fraud Survey had found that, while one in 10 respondents admitted they would make a cash payment to win or retain business in an economic downturn, this number rose to one in four people in the Far East.
He warned: “Public trust is the foundation of our profession. Once public trust is damaged it will have far reaching consequences.”
James agreed: “The business world and society is a challenging place at the moment. Only people can make it a better place.
“Please embrace the spirit of the Power of One. Your behaviour is absolutely crucial. You are all part of the business world, so please help to make it a better place.”