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Doing the Right Thing: A CPA’s First and Foremost Concern

Published Date:
Sep 11, 2014

Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Trusted Professional’s monthly column, Doing the Right Thing. Written by members of the NYSSCPA’s Professional Ethics Committee, it takes an in-depth look at how the Code of Professional Conduct can be applied to practical concerns.

Licensed professionals hold a special place in society, and the general public has high expectations about the quality of their work and their behavior. CPAs, in particular, have been granted a nearly exclusive franchise to provide attestation services. In return for the trust society has placed in our profession, CPAs owe fidelity to society and the public interest. It is of such importance that all CPAs should keep this top-of-mind whenever providing professional services.

Indeed, possibly the most important principle in the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct—which the NYSSCPA voted to adopt as its own in 2013—is Article II, The Public Interest. Article II reveals many of the profession’s core responsibilities: It requires members to accept an obligation to act in a way that will serve the public interest, honor the public trust and demonstrate a commitment to professionalism. What does this mean?

First, CPAs must be objective when providing any professional service. That is, the professional has an obligation to be impartial, intellectually honest and free of conflicts of interest. The public relies on both the objectivity and integrity of CPAs to maintain the orderly functioning of commerce. To act in an impaired manner would diminish the value of the service and ultimately cause the public to lose confidence in the profession.

Second, Article II recognizes that a CPA may encounter conflicting pressures from different groups the profession serves. For example, the desires of client management might result in bias in the way information of interest to other parties is presented. In resolving such conflicts, CPAs should act with integrity, guided by the precept that when the professional fulfills his or her responsibility to the public, the client’s interests are also best served, regardless of the immediate consequences. Integrity also requires CPAs to be honest and candid, and to never subordinate the public’s trust to personal gain or advantage.

Third, CPAs are expected to provide all professional services with due professional care, that is, to discharge their professional responsibilities with competence and diligence. Because a professional possesses special competencies and skills, the general public is not in a position to independently evaluate the quality of the services and must therefore trust that the professional will provide those services to the best of his or her ability. Article II requires CPAs to commit themselves to honor that public trust. In return for the faith that the public has in them, CPAs should continually seek to demonstrate their dedication to professional excellence.

Thomas Ray, CPA, is a Distinguished Lecturer in the Stan Ross Department of Accountancy at Baruch College, City University of New York, where he teaches auditing, and is a former PCAOB chief auditor and director of professional standards.

This article is for informational purposes only. For further guidance on professional issues, please see the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct

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