- Young CAs need to be aware of non-compliance with laws and regulations (NOCLAR).
- CAs must be prepared to flag anything that compromises their professional ethics.
- If young CAs feel concerned, they can contact CA ANZ or the CA Advisory Group for advice.
By Michelle Stevenson
Young chartered accountants typically enter the profession with gusto, ready to put their newly acquired knowledge and skills to work. But as a CA just starting out, what happens when you encounter professional grey areas?
That could be employers pressuring you to take shortcuts to finish work quickly, doctoring bills to meet budgets or giving you a task beyond your level of experience. If you’re a young chartered accountant concerned about keeping your job, how do you say ‘no’?
These situations may appear tricky to navigate, but there are guidelines that can help you take the right course of action.
Kate Dixon and Rebecca Stickney, leaders of the CA ANZ professional conduct teams in Australia and New Zealand, outline some of the issues young CAs should be aware of and resources to help.
For other situations, you can contact the CA Advisory Group for more advice.
In addition to understanding the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics, one of the most important parts of the Code young CAs need to be aware of relates to non-compliance with laws and regulations (NOCLAR). It provides a framework for accountants to work out how best to act in the public interest when they become aware of, or suspect, non-compliant behaviour.
NOCLAR covers serious criminal behaviour including corruption, bribery and money laundering. But it also includes grey areas, such as if an accountant is asked by their employer to fabricate a financial statement, resulting in a fabricated tax return designed to deceive the tax office.
The Code outlines the steps that should be taken by the accountant. These include: understanding the matter, discussing the matter, determining whether further action is required, and concluding and documentation.
Intellectual property issues
One of the areas where young CAs can come unstuck concerns intellectual property and when a member may – knowingly or unknowingly – take intellectual property (IP) or client data from a firm, either during or post-employment.
“As well as being a breach of confidentiality, it could [also] be an integrity issue, if you’re effectively stealing somebody else’s property,” Dixon explains.
“Many times, we get complaints about people who have gone out on their own and it’s alleged they’ve taken client lists, or they’ve taken a few templates or they’ve sent some stuff to their home computer and then they have left [the firm].
“The question is, ‘Was it on their home computer because they needed it for work or were they actually trying to turn it into templates?’”
This is particularly problematic if you’re using that IP to start your own business.
“It’s not a happy transition for clients if your former boss is alleging you’ve been unethical in the way you’ve set up your own business,” says Dixon.
If you’re wanting to catch up on work or go the extra mile for your boss, before sending any firm or client data to your home computer, check with your employer, suggests Stickney, adding that sometimes situations arise that could have been avoided.
What if there’s an impasse with your mentor?
Stickney describes an instance in which a young member’s mentor refused to sign off on their practical experience, effectively preventing them from applying for their CA designation. Feeling desperate, the young member falsified their mentor’s report.
The matter was ultimately referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal. While the member’s actions still led to a suspension of membership, Stickney says this is an example where the Disciplinary Tribunal was “prepared to give them another chance – and that’s a pretty serious extra chance”.
Stickney is quick to point out that this situation can – and should – be avoided.
“They’d reached an impasse with the mentor… and so they made a bad decision,” she says. “What they should have done is come to us and ask, ‘Look, what do I do here?’
“It’s important to be really engaged in the mentoring process and to deal with issues early. So if you’re not getting the right practical experience, talk to [your mentor] about how you are going to get that,” Stickney emphasises. “Be really committed to coming up with an appropriate plan... Take ownership of it, and if in doubt, ask.”
“If you’re not getting the right practical experience, talk to [your mentor] about how you’re going to get that.”
Knowing when to seek advice
As a young CA, it’s crucial you receive an adequate level of supervision and support in order to do your work properly. But if you know you’re in over your head, a critical part of being a professional is being able to ask for help at the right time.
You must also be prepared to flag anything that compromises, or has already compromised, your professional ethics – even if it means whistleblowing on yourself in the process.
“As a junior, you need to know when to put your foot down and say, ‘I can’t do that’,” says Dixon. “Because it could have ramifications that impact upon you personally.
“As a junior, you need to know when to put your foot down and say, ‘I can’t do that’.”
“And if you don’t put your foot down or escalate it to the appropriate person, these things are a lot harder to undo.”
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 you with advice 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 webpage.
Call: 1300 137 322 (Australia) or 0800 4 69422 (New Zealand)
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