ICAS CEO: The importance of ethical leadership
Bruce Cartwright CA, ICAS CEO, discusses the importance of every CA taking personal responsibility for ethical leadership, and highlights the resources and services that ICAS has put in place to ensure ethics remains at the heart of the profession.
Ethical leadership always has been, and continues to be, the cornerstone of what it means to be a CA, and the foundation for trust in the profession.
In accordance with our Royal Charter, each individual CA must take personal responsibility for the maintenance of the highest standards of ethical principles throughout their career and be cognisant of the fundamental requirement of the accountancy profession to act in the public interest. This is encapsulated in the ICAS motto; “Quaere Verum” - Seek the Truth.
Ethics: The key to a profession
The fundamental importance of ethics is emphasised from the start of a CA Student’s journey with ICAS. The ICAS Code of Ethics applies not only to Members but also CA Students, and ethics is integral to the CA qualification syllabus.
CA Students are exposed to ethics at every stage of the qualification, including completion of a Public Trust and Ethics course consisting of three compulsory elements over the duration of their training, and, ultimately, the requirement to pass a Public Trust and Ethics exam to qualify as a CA. Newly qualified ICAS Members attending the ICAS Admissions Ceremony, are again reminded of their ethical responsibilities as they stand alongside their fellow CAs to make an oral ethical declaration.
Post qualification, ICAS recognises that there is a need for ongoing training in ethics to serve as a continual reminder to Members of their ethical responsibilities. ICAS introduced mandatory ethics CPD for all ICAS Members to highlight the necessity to keep ethics at the forefront of their mind, which came into effect from 1 January 2021.
The Power of One
In 2015, ICAS launched its business ethics initiative – The Power of One – which highlights that ethics is at the heart of the professional responsibilities of ICAS Members. This initiative also emphasises the importance of every individual CA taking personal responsibility for ethical leadership.
Regardless of whether a CA is newly qualified or has many years of experience, the five fundamental principles in the ICAS Code of Ethics - integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality; and professional behaviour – should direct individual behaviour.
ICAS recognises the power of every individual CA to influence those around them. ‘The Power of One’ advocates that, through their ethical behaviour, CAs are a force for good in the organisations in which they work. No matter the career stage or level of seniority, every CA can have a role in shaping organisational culture and values. The cumulative effect of this influence can, in turn, help reinforce the importance of ethics at the core of business practices, to the benefit of our broader society.
A culture of ‘doing the right thing’ needs to permeate throughout organisations. If organisations do not do what is right for their employees, customers and other stakeholders, they will not survive in the long-term. The importance of trust, and reputation, cannot be overstated. ‘Tone at the top’ is the fundamental building block - it is imperative that leaders of organisations not only set the appropriate tone but also lead by example and ‘walk the talk’. However, it is equally important for this tone to be cascaded down through the rest of the organisation and embraced by all those who work for it.
CAs at all levels therefore have a key role to play in ensuring ethical values are always ‘lived’ within their organisations. All CAs need to demonstrate ethical leadership – they need to take the lead in relation to their own actions, but also challenge others when necessary. There is no doubt that it can be difficult to take the ethical stance, but the reality is if a CA suspects impropriety and does nothing, they could be found guilty of condoning it and could potentially be implicated in a scandal at a later date. A distinguished reputation could easily be shattered by acting inappropriately, or by failing to seek to prevent others from acting inappropriately. Ethical leadership requires ‘moral courage’. Since 2017, ICAS has recognised the concept of ‘moral courage’ in its Code of Ethics. ICAS has also been influential at a global level, with the substance of ‘moral courage’ now also being recognised in the ‘Integrity’ principle of the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code of Ethics.
The ICAS Ethics Helpline Service provides guidance if support is required when ethical issues arise. ICAS is also partnered with whistleblowing charity Protect to provide Members and CA Students with access to an independent, confidential helpline, offering free advice regarding whistleblowing and speaking up. The ICAS Ethics Buddy Service enables CAs with an ethical dilemma, where deemed appropriate, to have confidential, informal, discussions with an experienced ICAS Member. This is a supplement to the ICAS Ethics Helpline Service and access to Protect.
Ethics and sustainability
The accountancy profession has continually evolved to meet its public interest obligations as the needs of society continue to change. The sustainability, or Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”), agenda is now becoming a company’s licence to exist. As well as making profits for shareholders, companies also now need to understand their broader impact on society. This rise in the importance of sustainability will drive new and different requirements for the accountancy profession. Ethics is the conscience of organisations, it is at the core of driving behaviours, and is the key to long-term thinking. The golden thread of ethics and The Power of One weaves through sustainability, and every CA will have their own part to play as the profession moves forward to meet these new challenges.
Ethics: The foundation for trust
The Power of One highlights that the CA is more than just a professional qualification; it is a career for life. The personal benefits that such a career brings should not be regarded lightly, nor should the responsibility that goes with it. Every CA has an individual responsibility to ensure that they are an ethical leader and, in so doing, uphold their responsibilities to the public interest at the heart of their profession. Quaere Verum – Seek the Truth.
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