The field of accountancy looks vastly different than it did before the turn of the century, with a variety of technologies being implemented in business models to reduce human error, improve efficiency, and track and analyze data. New professional accountants and 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 accounting professionals can put in place now to ensure they are remaining ethical; these strategies are relevant to any changes in technology and allow CPAs to keep up with ethical standards surrounding innovations in the field.
4 Ways Professional Accountants Can Remain Ethical With New Technologies
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 if they relate to their current position, whether at an accounting firm or other business. This harbors two advantages: CPAs can stay up-to-date on advancements and therefore stay relevant in the industry, and they 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 artificial intelligence and automation into decision-making processes (i.e. transaction-level processes), the use of data analytics, increased reliance on a variety of information systems, the implementation of cybersecurity surrounding cloud-based data storage, cloud computing, and investments in blockchain. Accountants 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 ethical dilemmas through an increase in competence or changes in training.
2. Continue to Learn
Learning how 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, your company, your business model as a whole, and the accounting services being provided.
If you’re implementing artificial intelligence 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, especially when handling financial information? Artificial intelligence and automation are not error-free, and CPAs need to be consistently reviewing these technologies to ensure they aren’t creating errors.
An overreliance on technology when making business decisions can naturally lead to a breach of ethical standards 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 as a finance professional 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 ethical 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.