Beyond bean counting: Establishing high ethical standards in the public accounting profession [Book Review]

Journal of Business Ethics 10 (1):45 - 56 (1991)
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Abstract

Business professions are increasingly faced with the question of how to best monitor the ethical behavior of their members. Conflicts could exist between a profession's desire to self-regulate and its accountability to the public at large. This study examines how members of one profession, public accounting, evaluate the relative effectiveness of various self-regulatory and externally imposed mechanisms for promoting a climate of high ethical behavior. Specifically, the roles of independent public accountants, regulatory and rule setting agencies, and undergraduate accounting education are investigated. Of 461 possible respondents, 230 questionnaires (a 49.6% response rate) indicated that the profession's own rule setting body (The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and the use of peer review were perceived as the most effective mechanisms, while government regulation was ranked least. Respondents also evaluated the extent to which ethics should be covered in the accounting curriculum. For every course, the CPAs believed a greater emphasis on ethics is appropriate than presently exists. Suggestions for more effectively integrating ethics into accounting courses are made. Finally, respondents were also asked whether in answering the questionnaire they used a definition of ethics as either the Professional Code of Conduct or a moral and philosphical framework for guiding beliefs. Those who viewed ethics as abiding by a professional code had more confidence in the mechanisms addressed in this study to aid the public accounting profession's ability to ensure high ethical standards of conduct. Methodological implications of this distinction for future studies in business ethics are discussed.

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