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There’s no right way to do the wrong thing

March 21, 2011 Blog 2 min read

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you’re an auditor at an accounting firm. You’ve been given the opportunity to work on potentially the largest client account in the firm’s history. For now, you’re only doing a small engagement, but you’ve been told that, if you do well, your firm will receive the rest of the work. During the project, you come across a disclosure issue. The client has violated a covenant and chosen not to disclose it. When you raise the issue, they try to explain it away and eventually ask you to ignore it and sign off on the financial statement anyway.

What would you do?

My team faced this dilemma during my early years as a partner. By now, you’ve probably guessed how the story ends: we withdrew from the engagement despite the allure of significant additional revenue. No amount of money could justify that what the client had asked us to do was wrong, contrary to our principles, and a violation of professional ethics. In fact, the former head of our professional standards department said, “If we did what this client wanted us to do, we would make piles of money in the short run, but we’d disappear in the long run.” I still clearly remember those words ringing true in my ears each time I read about another accounting indiscretion.

We’re now in the height of our annual “busy season,” a time when members of the accounting profession have more client contact than ever because of assurance and tax engagements.  It’s worth remembering that as certified public accountants, our professional responsibility is to the public and to the financial markets. It’s why our profession has been given an exclusive franchise to perform audits. Upholding the public trust that’s been placed in us is how our profession will keep this franchise.

One of the things that’s impressed me about Plante & Moran over the years is our commitment to ethics and integrity. In my 30-year career at the firm, I’ve never been asked to do anything that conflicted with my personal principles. We have a saying at the firm—“there’s no right way to do the wrong thing”—and we stand by it. It’s part of what makes us who we are, and one of the things that makes me proud to be a part of our firm.

What about you? Have your professional ethics ever been tested? How did you react? What makes you proud of your organization?

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