Am I really a member of an ethically crippled profession?

Anton van Wyk

Having concluded our CPD Campus 2022 Ethics Triathlon with a discussion of professional ethics on Thursday 2 June 2022, I am writing this blog entry with mixed feelings.


Our guest speaker, Advocate Simoné van Helsdingen, led attendees through the principles supporting professional ethical conduct and I felt well-refreshed about those aspects that I should consciously observe in my daily professional life to call myself a truly ethical professional person.


Having been in education of prospective chartered accountants for most of my career, I must admit that I am somewhat saddened by observing the blatant actions of ethical transgression and pervasive moral decay by certain members of our respected profession (including, inter alia, accounting, finance, tax, and auditing). I can, again, revert to examples of such, but that would be highlighting information that is already well known and have served its purpose by now.


What is more important to me is the question “how do we fix this”? What can we, as individual professionals functioning within a larger professional community, do, to make things right and restore the faith that once was had in a prospering profession?


During our live CPD event I realised that change starts from within. The first action I can take to improve the perception of disappointment in our profession, is to ensure that my own actions consistently speak of my unquestionable professional ethical values and attitude. I should remain cognizant about unconscious biases that I may harbour that could impact my objectivity and integrity, and never (ever) compromise my perceived and actual independence. I should honour the principles of professional competence, due care, reliability, credibility, and excellence in absolutely everything that I do. No-one is going to remind me to do this – I must remind myself, inspired and motivated by the deep founded respect and love that I have for the profession I serve.


I can ensure that I also hold others accountable for their actions. I shouldn’t ‘look the other way’ when other professionals bring our profession into disrepute. When I am able to address any misconduct or transgression that is unworthy of forming part of our profession, I should do so swiftly and without bias, fear, or favour. Never allow the process of rationalisation, which is built into us as human beings, to let unacceptable behaviour become acceptable. Whether corruption and crime lead to R1 or R1 million being laundered or embezzled, the principle remains the same. Wrong is wrong, and I must stand up to it. Is this going to be tough for me? For sure! But the profession needs me to do this. And thus, I shall.


Being a member of a profession, should be more than paying an annual membership fee so that a designation can be used. As an accountant, I should love and respect my profession and, without exception, portray it in a positive way to others who look to me to protect the public interest, as well as the interests of all other stakeholders who depend on me. This would also include evaluating the impact that my decisions, conduct, and advice have on the wider community and the environment. Does only money drive my decisions, or will I relinquish such to remain ethical?


The time has come for me to help restore the pride I have always had, and which is still buried somewhere deep inside of me, for a profession that is currently being plagued by existential challenges in many ways. Not only should I act ethically, but also competently, which requires me to stay abreast of many changes relating to both technical content (that actually applies to me) and technological advances that could help me to serve my clients, employer and/or stakeholders better. I need to ensure that I equip myself in such a way that I am future-ready and portray that image of trustworthiness, excellence, competence, and devotion into the next decade!


In conclusion, I believe that us, as accounting professionals, struggle to always realise the relevance of continuing professional development in areas like ethics, citizenship, lifelong learning, and other enabling and future competencies. We still wish to tick the proverbial box with an annual IFRS and tax update. I have realised the importance of REFLECTION. And not only reflection about the impact of the latest amendments to IFRS 16 Leases on my ability to earn more money, but also about being the absolute best professional version of myself, that I can be. And that, colleague, takes commitment and a very high dose of good old guts! #let’s­_fix_this!

Test your ethics: A case study on professional ethics is now available