The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the rule-making and standard-setting body of the CPA profession. AICPA membership is not a requirement of the CPA profession, but it does help accounting professionals stand out by proving they’re being held to a higher professional and ethical standard. Membership also helps CPAs stay up to date with the most recent changes within the industry. 

Like we said, becoming a member of the AICPA isn’t necessary, but it may be a great move for your career; members are connected to a network of over 400,000 other CPAs who help guide each other through current careers, career advancement, and career changes. If you’re a member or are considering membership, it’s good to be aware of the AICPA’a Code of Professional Conduct to ensure you’re holding yourself to the high ethical standards of the AICPA. Below, we’ll cover what you need to know about the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct.

It’s Consistently Being Updated

While the Code of Professional Conduct was last revised on December 15th, 2014, it includes new, revised, and pending interpretations and other guidance pertinent to more recent changes in the industry. The Code includes new and revised interpretations that include Information Systems Services, Hosting Services, and other guidance, while the pending interpretations also include Information System Services updates. 

These interpretations provide guidance for CPAs as the profession becomes more technologically dependent. CPAs should spend some time each year reviewing the updated interpretations and guidance to ensure they’re staying up to date on any relevant updates. 

It Consists of Six Main Principles

The Principles of Professional Conduct are found in the Preface portion of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct and are applicable to all AICPA members. Outside of the six main principles we’ll cover below, the AICPA Code of Conduct notes that these are the basic principles of professional conduct. Members should consistently be evaluating situations and going above and beyond the principles when it comes to ethical behavior. 

  1. Responsibilities– This principle notes that members should always exercise moral and professional judgment during the course of their work and career. Members have an obligation to anyone they are providing professional services to, as well as an obligation to uphold the standards of the profession. 
  2. The Public Interest – This principle notes that members should act in ways that will serve the public interest and maintain public trust. ‘The public’ in this case means anyone the member serves. This creates a unique situation since there may be conflicting demands from different members of the public. The AICPA’s code explains that, in these cases, members should always act with integrity and realize that when their responsibility to the public is maintained, everyone benefits. In short, doing what’s right even in the face of conflict will benefit all interested parties. 
  3. Integrity- Integrity means being honest and candid while also maintaining client confidentiality. This principle notes members should perform all professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity, which is the best course of action to maintain the public trust. Members should always use integrity as a benchmark when making decisions, and should always strive to make the right decision, even in the face of conflicting interests. 
  4. Objectivity and Independence – Objectivity means that members should tackle each of their professional responsibilities free of conflicts. Members should also maintain independence in both fact and appearance when providing services to their clients. The two principles build on each other: objectivity is facing situations with a conflict-free state of mind while independence means being able to come to the table with an objective mindset. You can’t have independence without objectivity. Members should constantly be evaluating their responsibilities and relationships to ensure they’re holding themselves to the highest standards of objectivity and independence. 
  5. Due Care – Members should be constantly trying to improve their ethical competence and act to the best of their ability when it comes to ethical standards. Due care is the search for excellence within a member’s professional responsibilities and carrying out those responsibilities with professional competence. Members should utilize both planning and supervision, both for themselves and their staff, to ensure responsibilities are being carried out in an ethical manner. 
  6. Scope and Nature of Services – When providing services to clients, members should evaluate whether those services can be carried out while adhering to the professional standards above. If they can’t, the services should not be included in the scope of the work.

It Covers Three Main Sections

There are three parts of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct that seek to cover all the roles a CPA may encounter in their profession. Members should consider which category they fall into and review and adhere to that category’s rules. 

  1. Members in Public Practice – Public practice means the performance of professional services for a client by a member or a member’s firm. This also includes government auditors, provided they meet the specific criteria laid out in the Code of Professional Conduct. This section includes the ethical considerations that need to be made by those working in public practice. 
  2. Members in Business – Members in business are those working on a contractual or volunteer basis as executives or staff, as well as those in governance, advisory and administrative roles in industry, the public sector, education, not-for-profit, regulatory, or professional bodies. It’s important to note this is not the same as members in public practice. If a member is in business as well as in public practice, that member should consult the ‘members in public practice’ section of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. This section includes the ethical considerations that need to be made by those working as members in business.
  3. Other Members – Other members are those that aren’t in public practice or business, and this section covers the ethical considerations for those CPA professionals. 

It Isn’t the Only Code to Consider

The AICPA’a Code of Professional Conduct is meant to be a general framework, but there are several governing bodies that need to be considered when we approach the topic of ethics. The first ethical guidance members and all CPAs should look to is the ethical requirements of their state CPA society and/or state board of accountancy. After reviewing the ethical information provided by your state, the AICPA notes you should also consider the ethical regulations of the following governing bodies:

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB)
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO)
  • The Department of Labor (DOL)
  • Federal, state, and local taxing authorities
  • Any other body that regulates a member who performs professional services for an entity when the member or entity is subject to the rules and regulations of such a regulatory body. 

While membership in the AICPA is not required, those that are members need to ensure they’re holding themselves to the ethical standards mentioned above. You can review the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct in its entirety at the AICPA’s website