The field of accounting looks vastly different than it did before the turn of the century, with a variety of technologies being implemented to reduce human error, improve efficiency, and track and analyze data. New CPAs now have to be well versed in a variety of technologies on day one of their first job.
International, national, and state-level governing bodies are trying to keep up with the ethics in an increasingly technological field by updating, amending, or adding to their already existing codes of conduct. But it isn’t easy for them to keep up with such a dynamic profession. Luckily, there are a few simple strategies you can put in place now to ensure you’re remaining ethical; these strategies are relevant to any changes in technology and allow accountants to keep up with the ethics surrounding innovations in the field.
Four Ways CPAs Can Maintain Ethical Standards Amidst Technology Shifts
1. Staying Apprised of Change
The introduction of new technologies means the profession is changing rapidly, and the only way to remain ethical in a developing environment is to be aware of those changes. CPAs should consistently be reading industry-related journals, news articles, and web-based articles from reputable sources to stay apprised of any industry-wide innovations, and how those innovations relate to their current position. This harbors two advantages: CPAs can stay up-to-date on advancements and therefore stay relevant in the industry, and accountants can be prepared for any ethical dilemmas these types of changes often bring about.
Some of the bigger changes happening in the industry are the introduction of AI and automation into decision-making processes (i.e. transaction-level processes), the use of data analytics, an increased reliance on a variety of information systems, the implementation of cybersecurity surrounding cloud-based data storage and use, and investments in blockchain. CPAs who know about these changes and how they impact the industry will have a better understanding of the ethical dilemmas surrounding each technology before they happen, and how they can mitigate those dilemmas through an increase in competence or changes in training.
2. Continue to Learn
Learning that a new technology is being implemented is the first step; the second step is becoming familiar with the innovations themselves and how they relate to your job or your company.
If you’re implementing AI or automation at your company, you need to drill down into the technology and understand what’s actually happening. How are decisions being made on a transaction level? Is the technology being consistently audited to ensure accuracy? AI and automation are not error-free, and CPAs need to be consistently reviewing these technologies to ensure they aren’t creating errors or causing unexpected issues.
An overreliance on technology can naturally lead to a breach in ethics if we don’t learn about the technologies we’re using and the ethical considerations around them. Data usage and sharing can lead to breaches of confidentiality, not being aware of the technology we’re using can lead to breaches in due care, and a general lack of knowledge can lead to breaches of integrity and a loss of public trust in the profession.
3. Maintain Competence – And Know When You Don’t Have It
You don’t have to get a degree in information systems or become an expert in the technology you’re implementing (although these are both great options for a continuously changing profession), but you do need to have a level of competence that allows you to perform your job accurately and within scope.
A huge ethical consideration is whether or not you have the competence to complete your job if it requires specific technology that you aren’t familiar with. Can you rely on the technology? Do you have the capability to test results accurately? Do you have past experience with the technology? If you can’t complete your job in a competent way, you absolutely have to consider using experts to remedy your gaps in competence, or you have to refer the job to someone who has the competence to complete it.
4. Always Refer Back to the Core Values of the Profession
The AICPA Code of Ethics consists of six main principles: responsibilities, the public interest, integrity, objectivity and independence, due care, and the scope and nature of services. CPAs should always refer back to these principles when faced with ethical dilemmas, even if they relate to new or changing practices and technologies. These principles are universal to all decision making, and by doing your due diligence and reviewing these principles each time you come to an ethical crossroads, you’ll be able to make the correct ethical decision.
The field of accounting is changing rapidly, and with the introduction of new technologies and techniques, it can be easy to feel lost in a sea of ethical dilemmas. By consistently integrating the above strategies into your career, you can face changes to the profession knowing you’ll be able to continue to make ethical decisions.