Date posted: 21/01/2021 8 min read

How interim suspensions protect the public and the profession

If a CA’s behaviour poses an imminent risk to clients, CA ANZ can impose an interim suspension. But people need to speak up.

In Brief

  • An interim suspension can protect the public from imminent risk if a chartered accountant has not been acting in a professional way.
  • Members – and the public – need to be proactive in reporting any concerning behaviour by CA ANZ members.
  • Reporting concerning behaviour benefits everyone as it upholds the integrity of the CA ANZ brand.

By Michelle Stevenson

Not everyone has coped in these recent tough times, and the immense economic pressures of the past 12 months may have triggered behaviour that was out of character.

When chartered accountants see a colleague slipping off the rails of professional conduct and integrity, they should firstly seek to support and assist their colleague. If the colleague has slipped then CA ANZ needs to be informed.

As we stare down the barrel of an increasingly uncertain and challenging future, members – and the public – need to be proactive in reporting any concerning behaviour by CA ANZ members.

This is particularly important in cases where a certain behaviour needs swift intervention. As part of CA ANZ’s protective regime, any member whose behaviour is regarded as an imminent risk to the public, any person or the accounting profession, may receive an interim suspension.

Reporting your concerns protects the public

“My instinct is, as we go through an economic downturn, some serious cases will emerge including allegations of dishonesty or fraud and so it’s timely to be thinking about this,” says Rebecca Stickney, who heads the CA ANZ professional conduct team in New Zealand.

“My instinct is, as we go through an economic downturn, some serious cases will emerge including allegations involving dishonesty or fraud.”
Rebecca Stickney

Reporting concerning behaviour actually benefits everyone, she says, as it upholds the integrity of the CA ANZ brand. It also protects the interests of current and future clients and employers. Reporting serious complaints to CA ANZ can even uncover a crime and has, in a small number of cases, led to jail time.

Kate Dixon, CA ANZ’s professional conduct leader in Australia, recalls a recent case.

“We got a number of complaints against a member, from clients, regarding misappropriation. The Tribunal suspended him on an interim basis. Ultimately, he was convicted and sent to jail. It’s not common but it happens.”

The accountant was found guilty of nine counts of deception and theft of more than A$1.3 million. He received a prison sentence of 8½ years.

“His membership was terminated finally – and fully – earlier this year [2020],” says Dixon. “While the investigations and ultimately the criminal proceedings took place, he was interim suspended and then his membership [was] terminated when all that was finished.

“From a reputational and public protection perspective, it’s good to have it clear that while the legal and investigative process takes place, he’s not practising as a chartered accountant.”

Stickney had a case in New Zealand where a complaint from one set of clients led to the identification of other affected clients. The member was interim suspended while NZICA completed its investigation. This enabled other clients to be made aware of the investigation.

Ultimately, the member was struck off for misappropriation, with the matter referred to the Serious Fraud Office. It was revealed that he’d stolen more than NZ$1 million from 245 victims over six years. He was sentenced to almost four years in prison.

Interim suspension is a protective measure

“Basically, any time after receipt of a complaint, the Professional Conduct Committee can apply to the Disciplinary Tribunal for an order suspending the member’s membership on an interim basis until further order of the Tribunal,” says Stickney.

In making its decision, the Disciplinary Tribunal will consider:

  • the urgency of the matter
  • the interests of the public
  • the reputation of NZICA or CA ANZ
  • the integrity of the profession of accountancy.

The Tribunal may also consider the financial interests of any person. In essence, the question should be: Is there an urgent need and an imminent risk to the public or profession so that a member needs to be suspended very promptly? (Ultimately, the member can appeal the interim suspension before it comes fully into effect.)

Generally speaking, the most significant impact of an interim suspension is the publicity it attracts. The Tribunal will publish the fact of the suspension and that can have some reputational consequences for the member.

“It’s on our website so everybody knows about it… Interim suspension is not a penalty. It’s a protective measure for the public, CA ANZ and the profession, while an investigation and possibly other legal process takes place,” Dixon explains.

“Interim suspension is not a penalty. It’s a protective measure to allow an investigation to be completed where there are serious questions about a member’s conduct.”
Kate Dixon

What sorts of things warrant interim suspension?

There are three ‘streams’ of misbehaviour that might trigger an interim suspension. Most often, it’s where a CA is facing criminal charges for things such as fraud or insider trading.

The second stream is where CA ANZ becomes aware of dishonest conduct, and the third is where there are serious concerns regarding a member’s competency.

It covers quite a broad range of concerning behaviour and misconduct – which is exactly as it should be, says Stickney. “It is protective… This is only reserved for cases where there is that kind of imminent risk because it rubs up against people’s rights to the presumption of innocence,” she says.

Of course, by its very nature, interim suspension is only temporary. It has to finish at some point – either with the member returning to membership or losing their membership permanently.

Need help? Call CAAG or check CA ANZ’s resources

The CA Advisory Group provides counselling and support for chartered accountants facing ethical dilemmas or weighing career decisions.

Local panels of experienced CAs offer guidance for fellow members and can provide counselling and support on a range of professional and ethical matters.

The CA Advisory Group service is free and all discussions are strictly confidential.

Visit: CA Advisory Group

Call: 1300 137 322 (Australia) or 0800 4 69422 (New Zealand)