Ethics is a serious topic for professionals working in business. Stories of financial professionals failing to act in an ethical manner – and the consequences – are unfortunately commonplace. It’s important for management accountants around the world to be able to understand and identify unethical behavior. This importance is reflected in the requirement for professionals holding the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential to earn two hours of CPE credit in ethics each year.
While we often refer to ethical issues on the job, ethics training for professionals starts earlier than you think – even before college.
Growing up, you acquire ethical values through many avenues, including your culture, religion, family, and more. These values stay with you throughout your life. While many people would agree that ethics isn’t something that you can be taught in school, you can learn how to recognize unethical situations in kindergarten through college.
In college (and with continuing education courses), you can learn about applying your ethical beliefs in the real world, the red flags that alert you to fraud and other unethical situations, and the procedures to report these situations. Most higher education institutions require their accounting majors to take an ethics course before graduating or incorporate an ethics component in other courses. This is a great way for students to learn how to address real-world ethical situations and understand what can happen when faced with financial pressures and your business’s reputation is on the line.
If you were ever to get caught cheating in school, consequences can range up to getting expelled. But if you get caught “cheating” in the real world, the consequences can be much more serious, including losing your job, damaging your reputation, and facing criminal charges.
After you graduate and get your first job, you’ll need to continue to develop your ability to identify unethical situations and learn how to avoid them. One way to do this is by asking for a mentor at your company, who could explain how a seasoned professional would handle such situations. How would he or she recognize the red flag? How would he or she report it? Each company has different procedures, which should be followed first. The IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice can also be a guide in resolving ethical conflicts.
Applying what you’ve learned in the classroom to the business world can be intimidating. But if you know the signs of unethical behavior and the resources available to you, you will be able to successfully uphold your values in the workplace and keep your company on the ethical path to success.
As a leader in upholding the highest ethical standards in business, IMA offers many resources to help guide accountants and financial professionals:
- IMA Ethics Center
- The IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice
- IMA Educational Case Journal (IECJ®)
- Ethics column in Strategic Finance
- Continuing education courses
In a time when the news is flooded with stories about big corporations committing fraud, it’s more important than ever to understand your values and responsibility as an accountant to hold yourself to the highest ethical standards.
Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson
Overcoming the Fraud Triangle – Strategic Finance
The Importance of Internal Controls – Forbes
Nine Steps to Make Your Company’s Ethics Training Program Stick – AccountingWeb