A code that empowers

Gail Stirling

As professional accountants operating in today's highly competitive, complex business world, it is essential that you sustain your integrity and also remember the trust and confidence that those relying on your objectivity and professionalism place in you. That expectation of higher standards comes with the territory of being a professionally qualified accountant — it goes beyond technical capability and includes behavioural and ethical standards.

When dealing with challenging questions or situations, building trust helps build credibility and makes difficult or unpopular conversations easier. It also makes for a better working environment and a healthier organisational culture. In your own organisation there will be colleagues whom you instinctively feel more comfortable reaching out to when things take a difficult turn, who you know will listen without judging, and who will be respectful of your views even if they differ from their own. You may be one of those "turn to" people yourself — and that will not go unnoticed.

Of course, part of the complexity of today's business environment is the scale and scope of regulation, and noncompliance can have serious financial and reputational repercussions, not only for the individuals and organisations concerned but also for the wider public interest. The nature and degree of regulation in jurisdictions around the world is partly determined by the prevailing degree of trust in business.

Professional bodies are also in the business of regulation, not only to maintain standards but also to uphold trust, and public confidence, in their professions. At CIMA and the Association we take a positive approach to regulation — one that is enabling and facilitative. A good example of that is the CIMA and the CGMA Code of Ethics.

Rather than merely representing more rules to be complied with, and more hoops to jump through, the Code is actually there to help you. It has been updated with changes that will go into effect in January 2020. It will include new guidance, including on how to deal with pressure. Details of the changes are featured in the article "New Code of Ethics Is True to CIMA's Core Principles".

So, how can the revised Code continue to help you? Well, if your professional instincts are telling you that something doesn't feel quite right, then there is a good chance it isn't. Listen to your "inner voice" and use the Code and the ethical checklist as resources to help articulate the problem and how you might go about mitigating your concerns. Don't wait until something actually goes wrong or escalates further before you check it out. The Code and ethical checklist may even help you resolve the matter in a way you had not contemplated initially.

Having a professional code to point to also gives you permission to raise and question issues openly and in a more objective way; it can help defuse emotion and enable positions to be revisited without loss of face. Don't let addressing difficult, unpopular, or sensitive issues become a burden — they are a part of business life. Many of your fellow professionals have helped build the Code and resources. It's important to use them to continue to make our profession a great one of which to be a part.

Gail Stirling is executive vice-president—Professional Standards & Conduct, Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and is also CIMA's secretary general.