Bill MacLeod CA, member of the ICAS Ethics Board, talks about putting ICAS’ The Power of One into practice and why it’s important for chartered accountants (CAs) to put ethics at the heart of their professional responsibilities.
Bill was the Ethics Partner and Partner Responsible for Independence at PwC until his retirement in 2020. Since his retirement he has become a Non-Executive Director at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust and joined the Council of Newcastle University. He also chairs the Advisory Board to Newcastle University Business School.
“Ethics were at the heart of my final role at PwC. I was frequently faced with highly complex situations that required extensive technical analyses often against different jurisdictions’ ethical standards and regulations,” he said.
ICAS’ The Power of One
ICAS launched The Power of One in 2015 which calls for CAs to show ethical leadership and Bill found the resource helpful when making decisions: “The Power of One was really helpful in making me take a step back from that detail and considering whether it was the right thing to do irrespective of the technical analysis. It made me think more about not ‘can we do it’, but ‘should we’?”
Working with MBA students at the Newcastle University Business School he has continued using his experience to help the students make ethical decisions: “These students come from many countries, but frequently have questions on balancing ethics and personal morals with decisions that have to be made in a corporate environment. I’ve explored these dilemmas with them and encouraged them on the importance of applying an ethical framework to their decision making when they return to their corporate career.”
Rebuilding public trust
Public trust in business and the accountancy profession have been challenged of late. The Power of One calls for CAs to take personal responsibility for applying the highest ethical standards to fulfil the profession’s duty to act in the public interest. So how can CAs use their CA qualification to be a force for good in society and help rebuild public trust in business?
“There is no simple answer to this. Reputations take a long time to build and can be destroyed in an instant. However, the consistent application of a strong ethical approach to business over a long period of time, stepping back to look at the bigger picture and putting reputation and society ahead of self will help,” Bill says.
“Trust is the most valuable commodity in business and The Power of One encourages behaviour that will engender trust,” he adds.
Speaking up against unethical behaviour
One key element of The Power of One is having the moral courage to ‘speak up’ against unethical behaviours and practices to influence the culture of your organisation. This isn’t necessarily an easy task: “There is an inevitable tension between The Power of One and commercial pressures in most organisations. My advice to CAs is to think longer term. This may entail difficult conversations and challenges, but corporate and personal reputations are essential to ensure long-term success. Over this longer period, acting in accordance with The Power of One will result in corporate and personal success.
“We see this now where the long-term winners in many sectors are the companies that have built a reputation for strong ethics and recognising their broader role in society. Personally, I have also had to make difficult decisions in audits that can be very challenging at the time. Frequently, though, and many months later, the Managing Director or Finance Director, would say, ‘actually you were right there, we respect you for standing up to us’. Most companies expect their Finance Director or Audit Partner to have to act like this at times and it’s more likely to enhance your reputation than damage a relationship.”
Find out more about ICAS’ The Power of One here.