Recognizing Ethical Issues: An Examination of Practicing Industry Accountants and Accounting Students

Krista Fiolleau, Steven Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

It has long been recognized that accountants practicing in business settings have a dual role: (1) as employees, they are bound to the organization, and (2) as professionals, they are bound by the profession’s code of ethical conduct (Westra, Journal of Business Ethics 5(2): 119–128, 1986). These two roles highlight the need to recognize and consider both the ethical and economic implications of their decisions. Practicing industry accountants are commonly involved in a broad range of their firm’s business practices and decision making, and are increasingly exposed to the commercial aspects of their companies. Also, during their education, they were trained on their professional responsibilities. However, in general, this education was not recent and may not have been reinforced. By contrast, accounting students have been recently and repeatedly exposed to and have knowledge about their professional responsibilities as an accountant, but limited, if any, exposure to the commercial aspects of business. Consequently, our first hypothesis predicts that the ethical sensitivity of practicing industry accountants will be lower than that of accounting students. We find limited support for this hypothesis. Second, we also examine company reward structure and predict that ethical sensitivity will be lower for those in a company with a reward structure narrowly focused only on financial goals as compared to those in a company with a broad reward structure (e.g., including rewards for both financial and non-financial goals). Third, we predict that the difference in ethical sensitivity levels between those in a company with a narrow reward structure as compared to those in a company with a broad financial reward structure will be higher for practicing industry accountants compared to accounting students. Results from our study generally support these last two predictions. Ethical sensitivity is lower for those in a company with a reward structure narrowly focused only on financial goals as compared to those in a company with a broad reward structure, suggesting that companies may be able to increase ethical awareness in their organizations by including non-financial goals in their reward structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Apr 20 2016

Keywords

  • Earnings management
  • Ethical awareness
  • Ethical sensitivity
  • Professional identity
  • Professionalism
  • Rewards structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Law
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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