How to maintain your code of ethics as an accountant

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Being a member of AAT is more than a qualification – it is a mark of high standards, high-quality training, and professionalism.

To help members maintain these standards and provide high levels of professional service at all times, the AAT publishes a Code of Professional Ethics. This sets out guiding principles and gives members of the public the assurance that when using an AAT member’s services, they can expect a professional service. You can read the Code in detail.

Ethics is a fundamental aspect of accountancy. When hiring someone to deal with sensitive personal and business information, advise on financial transactions, and give guidance on issues such as tax and allowances, the public need to know they are being served by a professional who is honest and competent, and who adheres to legal and ethical standards.

By using a member of the AAT, clients have the reassurance that they will be using someone who is bound by the principles of the Code which covers all areas of practice.

The Code was revised in 2017 and approved by AAT Council. It is based on the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants approved by the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) which came into force on 1 January 2011.  The Code adopts a value system, focusing on fundamental professional and ethical principles which are at the heart of proper professional behaviour.

There are five fundamental principles which members must follow:

  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Professional competence and due care
  • Confidentiality
  • Professional behaviour

The Code is a valuable framework for new and established accountants because it helps them to identify and evaluate threats and to respond appropriately to them.

What does the Code cover?

It provides guidance and illustrations both generally and in specific problem situations. It is based on the laws effective in the UK which members are expected to comply with as a minimum requirement. Members working or living overseas are expected to know and apply the laws of the overseas country, having taken local legal advice if necessary.

The guidance that the Code provides covers a number of important issues:

  1. Threats and safeguards – a threat might potentially compromise a member’s compliance with the fundamental principles
  2. Conflicts of interest – when it would be difficult for a member to be objective in certain circumstances
  3. Integrity – the obligation to be straightforward and honest
  4. Objectivity – not to compromise professional or business judgement because of bias, conflict of interest or the undue influence of others
  5. Professional competence and due care – ensuring that your professional knowledge and skill are maintained at the level required to ensure that clients or employers receive competent professional service. It requires members to act diligently in accordance with technical and professional standards
  6. Confidentiality – not disclosing information obtained in the course of your work, even in a social setting
  7. Professional behaviour – adhering to competent and professional standards at all times

Maintaining standards

Members whose behaviour falls short of these standards, reflecting adversely on the reputation of AAT, may face disciplinary action under AAT’s Disciplinary Regulations.

For example, members must not make exaggerated claims about the services they are able to offer, the qualifications they possess, or experience they have gained. When they are marketing their services they should not make disparaging references to other people or rival firms.

Being a fit and proper person

AAT expects its members to act with the highest levels of professionalism, both in and outside of their professional lives.

It is important to remember that this applies in social situations, and when you are not at work.

Clients and employers rely on AAT to take ongoing steps to consider whether a member is, and continues to be, a fit and proper person to be a member.

Money Laundering: As a supervisory body under the Money Laundering Regulations, AAT is careful to ensure that professional accountancy services are not exploited by those involved in serious organised crime to launder their criminal proceeds.

This includes preventing criminals and their associates from holding an interest in a firm providing self-employed accountancy services.

Criminal convictions:  When applying for membership of AAT, you do not need to declare spent criminal convictions, or any road traffic offence which was dealt with by way of fixed penalty notice.

AAT will not normally approve an application for membership from an applicant with an unspent criminal conviction in:

  • serious organised crime, including drug offences, human trafficking and immigration offences, and terrorism
  • financial crime, including money laundering offences, fraud and theft
  • dishonesty
  • abuse of position

If you apply to be a member of the AAT and don’t disclose an unspent criminal record, you will be investigated and your membership application may be rejected.

If you do receive a criminal conviction while a member of the AAT, you must let AAT know within 30 days of the date of the conviction.

In some cases, receiving a criminal conviction may mean your licence is terminated with immediate effect, and you wouldn’t be able to provide self-employed accountancy services.

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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