Majority of finance professionals pressured into acting unethically, says survey

12 Jul 18

Almost two thirds of finance professionals say they have come under pressure to act in an unethical way at some point in their careers, according to early findings from CIPFA’s ethics survey revealed today. 

Of the 63% that said they had faced this kind of issue in the workplace, nearly half (47%) said it had happened once or twice, 29% between two and five times and 23% more than five times.

Pressure was exerted by line managers in 42% of cases, by chief executives or chief finance officers in 30% of cases, and board, cabinet or council in 15% of cases.

This was often done in the form of threats to bypass individuals for promotion and disciplinary action. 

Respondents working in auditing firms were told that if they did not comply with a client’s wishes their bill might not be paid or they could lose out on future work.

Only 7% of respondents said they had carried out the unethical request and 29% said they had partially carried out the request. Almost two thirds (64%) said they had refused to act unethically or gave no answer.

Unethical experiences highlighted included excessive optimism in budgets and business cases, ‘getting around’ financial regulations, unreasonably downplaying risks and accounting for revenue as capital.

Among the comments submitted by respondents were that “ethics [is] seen as theoretical and discarded when convenient for senior management” and “commercialisation of local government is distorting the view of what ethical activity should be”.

The findings were based on 157 responses to the ethics survey as of 30 June. Eighty seven per cent of respondents were qualified accountants, while 73% were CIPFA qualified.

Four in ten respondents worked in local government, 20% in the NHS and the remainder from a variety of sectors including charities and audit firms.

Results were revealed by Rick Tazzini, a member of CIPFA’s ethics working group, at the CIPFA annual conference today.  Tazzini said some of the issues were the “kind of things that got Carillion into trouble”.

The survey also revealed relatively low awareness of the code of ethics. Just 76% said they were aware of the code and less than half of these had read it recently.

Tazzini said he was expecting awareness of the code to have been higher.

“It’s a really important document for all of us as professionals,” he said.

Opening the session, Margaret Pratt said: “Every CIPFA colleague should be challenged to take their ethical temperature from time to time.”

She added that members needed to be equipped with “moral courage and resilience”.

Pressure on finance professionals was now greater than it ever has been, she said.

CIPFA’s ethics survey remains live and can be completed here. PF will be reporting on the full findings later in the year. 

  • Vivienne Russell
    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

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