In a survey of almost 1,700 accountants worldwide, CareersinAudit.com found that 48% had witnessed or experienced pressure from senior figures to ignore adjustments that should have been made to a set of accounts.
Similarly, 40% said they were aware of senior staff members in their organisation that deliberately chose a commercial result, for the company or client, even where it was unethical.
In total, 53% believe that senior staff members do not act independently of the commercial pressures faced by the business.
Simon Wright, operations director of CareersinAudit.com, explained that, despite a raft of regulatory measures introduced to curb poor ethical standards, it was obvious that many were practicing “tokenism” ethics.
“Over the last decade, different industry bodies and the government have been proactively looking at ways to mitigate risk against another Enron happening.
“In the UK, there has been a spate of legislative measures including the companies act 2006 [which] requires each director to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence; the bribery act 2010, and more recently the enterprise and regulatory reform Act 2013 introduced the whistleblowing legislation.
“Ethics tokenism – simply identifying and articulating [principles] – is not enough,” he added. “In order to put them into practice, organisations need to adopt values that will adhere to the principles and maintain the confidence of stakeholders.”
The survey found that a third of accountants believed that at least 10% of the profession had helped produce a set of accounts that was deliberately misleading. On the whole, 54% of those surveyed do not think that industry bodies are doing enough to regulate accountancy. The same percentage believes that the profession should be governed by a set of rules; 46% think principles are enough.
"There is a school of thought that accountants tend to focus on the technical issues and lack ethical sensitivity to recognise ethical dilemmas involved with their work, which could ultimately lead to making wrong decisions," Wright said. "Perhaps accountants could be trained or guided to identify the moral dimension of seemingly technical issues.”