and broaden public confidence, members should perform all
professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity.
is an element of character fundamental to professional recognition.
It is the quality from which the public trust derives and
the benchmark against which a member must ultimately test
requires a member to be, among other things, honest and
candid within the constraints of client confidentiality.
Service and the public trust should not be subordinated
to personal gain and advantage. Integrity can accommodate
the inadvertent error and the honest difference of opinion;
it cannot accommodate deceit or subordination of principle.
the third principle of CPAs’ professional code of
ethics, deals with integrity. A person of integrity adheres
firmly to the code of professional conduct. CPAs commit
to integrity as a condition of participating in the CPA
profession. Becoming a CPA does not give someone integrity;
rather, integrity is an aspect of character that a person
possesses before becoming a CPA or learns rapidly because
that person desires the advantages of being a CPA.
some people seem to come by integrity naturally, most of
us learn it through exposure to individuals with integrity
or through immersion in social situations where integrity
is valued and promoted. Institutional or work settings that
reward dishonesty, greed, and duplicity—or settings
that punish honesty, commitment to principle, and efforts
to do the right thing—thwart individuals’ development
of integrity. A profession whose foundation lies in its
credibility should pay close attention to how its professional
institutions and employers support or undermine integrity.
my years in teaching, my students used to stumble over integrity.
For them, it was like fine art: They couldn’t tell
you what it was, but they thought they recognized it when
they saw it. Our discussions of integrity would include
examples of what they thought it meant, disagreements with
one another about those examples, and modern idioms for
integrity, including “Putting your money where your
mouth is,” “Doing rather than talking,”
“Calling them like you see them,” and “Walking
the talk.” Although many people have difficulty talking
about integrity apart from specific examples, few mistake
that awful feeling of incompleteness or disjointedness that
accompanies a breakdown in personal integrity or when personal
integrity comes under attack.
learn about integrity through formal education. Formal education
also places individuals in circumstances where they can
practice integrity in an academic setting, where opportunities
for cheating and other dishonesty abound. Consequently,
honor codes that rely on students’ integrity are important
institutions of college life. Before CPA licensure required
a college education, experience in a CPA firm substituted
for both the intellectual and moral components of a college
degree. After a college degree became required for licensure,
the rationale for the experience requirement shifted somewhat
to focus on exposing college graduates to the culture and
ethics of the CPA profession. Many young CPAs learned about
integrity from experienced partners personally, because
it was common then for partners and staff to work closely
together on audit engagements.
in the Environment
in accounting practice was one-dimensional before the changes
in competitive practices, beginning with the 1968 consent
degree with the Federal Trade Commission. Before competitive
bidding for clients, the “toughness” of the
firm on accounting principles was the principal focus of
integrity. The advent of price and market competition, however,
introduced a second element of integrity: the survival of
the firm. What difference did it make if you were tough
on accounting principles if clients could easily switch
firms? What would happen if clients began seeking the firm
that would provide the most favorable accounting, while
your firm stood tough? A viable firm was a prerequisite
for the provision of any accounting services.
stories from the 1950s and ’60s of firms walking away
from clients over issues of accounting integrity and gaining
even more clients because of their reputation for integrity
could occur only in a one-dimensional world. The new environment
and its competitive realities began to skew accountants’
loyalty to their firm and their clients’ well-being
rather than to principles.
the shapers of public opinion applaud when a CPA firm is
tough on principles, confronting a client, forcing changes,
or resigning over accounting issues. The newspapers print
stories about such examples of integrity, and another story
on the same page may link the same firm with a sensational
accounting problem. The current situation creates confusion
about integrity. Individual CPAs currently do not share
a common understanding of what integrity means for their
profession. But there is a clear directive in the principle
quoted above: “Service and the public trust should
not be subordinated to personal gain and advantage.”
this as our mantra, let us rejuvenate our commitment to
integrity by talking about it, reinstating it on our evaluations,
and nurturing it through our formal education programs and
the first two years of experience. Then, we would be walking
the talk of our code of professional conduct.
H. Colson, PhD, CPA