New ACCA Report: Ethical Behavior Should Be at Core of Business in Digital Age

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) released a global survey, “Ethics and Trust in a Digital Age.” It raises questions about how prepared businesses are to face new ethical challenges, such as ransomware attacks, crypto-currency transactions, intellectual property disputes and customer privacy.

“Professional accountants are often on the front line of facing ethical questions in business,” says Maggie McGhee, director of professional insights at ACCA. “What is clear is that the digital age creates new dilemmas where there are no easy answers. If you’re working in a business considering whether to start accepting bitcoin payments, or implementing cloud-based customer records, these are crucial questions. In the digital age, there needs to be more – not less – importance placed on the ethical and professional judgment of individuals.

“What many are calling for is guidance and leadership on how to respond. All those involved in decision-making levels in business should be aware of how new technologies can affect their reputation and consider how to support their employees in doing the right thing.”

The report features a series of short case studies exploring the ethical questions raised for accountants and auditors by digital technology. It offers guidance through assessing the scenarios alongside the five fundamental principles for professional accountants established by the International Ethics Standards Board of Accountants.

The survey explores six digital themes:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Platform-based business models
  • Big Data and analytics
  • Crypto currencies and distributed ledgers
  • Automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Procurement of technology solutions

The survey found that while 77% noted that ethics was a “very important” skill in the digital age, about one in five respondents reported that they had personally felt pressure to compromise their ethical principles in the preceding year. These responses revealed that the most commonly compromised principle was that of integrity, being straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships.

“The professional accountants of the future will need, in addition to technical capability, a rounded skill set that demonstrates key quotients for success in areas such as experience, intelligence, creativity, digital skills, emotional intelligence and vision. And at the heart of these lies the ethical quotient,” says ACCA’s Warner Johnston.

The survey found that in the United States:

  • 90% noted that strong ethical principles and behavior will become more important in the digital age.
  • 94% found that ethical behavior helps to build trust in the digital age.
  • 89% felt professional accountants act in the public interest.
  • 92% felt that professional accountants upholding their code contributes to organizations’ abilities to uphold ethics.
  • 99% felt that International Ethics Standards Board of Accountants principles still apply and remain relevant in the digital age.