Integrated throughout our qualifications, ethics is a vital part of your training. Caroline Fox, ICAEW Ethics Moderator, explains what it involves.
Ethics is a set of values or principles that influence how we make decisions and live our lives – doing what is morally ‘right’ and good. As chartered accountants, we are expected to demonstrate the highest standards of professional conduct, always acting in the best interests of our clients, colleagues and communities. The ICAEW Code of Ethics sets out the fundamental principles that govern the profession: integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality; and professional behaviour. They apply to all ICAEW students and members, and it is your responsibility to know and understand them.
Ethics underpins what accountants do every day – which is why it is also a fundamental part of your training. The Ethics Learning Programme is designed to develop students’ knowledge and behaviours, covering everything from the reasons why ethics has become so vital for the finance professional, to how to apply it in different business situations. It covers a broad range of practical subjects, including topical areas such as technology, sustainability and social media.
There are not always right and wrong answers in ethics – it’s about applying the principles to a situation and using your own judgement and discretion – which is why discussion and application are such important parts of the ACA training. There is also no such thing as seniority when it comes to ethics; while others may be more experienced than you, you should always speak up if something doesn’t look or feel right. Essentially, we are all students of ethics – and we will be throughout our careers.
Ethics is integrated throughout our qualifications: within the exams, the professional development requirements, and the Ethics Learning Programme. You must complete the Ethics Learning Programme within your first 12 months of training if you are studying towards the ACA or BFP, and it’s strongly recommended for ICAEW CFAB students, too.
Accessed through your online training file, the Ethics Learning Programme has six modules, covering a range of practical topics:
- Ethics, stakeholders and culture
- ICAEW and public trust
- The ICAEW Code of Ethics
- Ethics in business
- Ethics in public practice
- Ethics in a transforming world
You can work through the modules one by one at your own pace (as long as you complete them all within 12 months). There are practice questions and progress tests to assess your knowledge and understanding after each module, along with a full assessment at the end. You must score 70% to pass. The marks for the progress tests and full assessment will be recorded in your training file. You can have multiple attempts at the full assessment (though your employer may have their own rules on this, so double check with them). While completing the modules and assessment is a mandatory part of your training, remember that ethics is not something you can just “pass” – the application of ethics, and the ongoing learning throughout your career, are crucial too. We encourage you to read around the subject areas, keeping abreast of current real world ethical matters.
Along with the Ethics Learning Programme, the other vital element of ethics training for ACA students is the discussions that take place as part of your six-monthly reviews. You will need to prepare three of the 18 Ethics in Practice scenarios for each review, and your Qualified Person Responsible for Training (QPRT) or counsellor will then choose one to talk about during the meeting, along with a real-life ethics example. Before each review, you should read through the relevant three scenarios and think about:
- What are the ethical principles at stake?
- What are the ethical issues to consider?
- What action would you take to solve the problem?
It’s useful to make notes, but remember that you won’t be delivering a prepared answer: the value is in applying your ethical judgement, debating and discussing the scenarios and real-life examples with someone more experienced – and getting used to an ethical sense check being at the heart of every decision or dilemma in your working life.
For ACA and BFP students, the Ethics Learning Programme should be completed, and the full assessment passed, within your first year of training. This will put you in a good place ready for the ethics content that will appear in your technical exams.
For ACA students, the 18 Ethics in Practice scenarios should be followed sequentially: the first six scenarios mirror the content of the modules in the Ethics Learning Programme and are designed to be used at the two six-monthly reviews in your first year of training; scenarios seven to 13 gradually become more complex and challenging, and are intended for discussion in your second (scenarios seven to 12) and third (scenarios 13-18) years of training. While the content areas will be different, you will be applying the same balanced judgements to more complex scenarios as you progress.
As you move through your career, it will be important for you to continually reassess your position, as specific legislation and societal norms will change. Overall, our ethics training is designed to help you feel proud of yourself and of a profession with integrity at its core – and you can play a key role in this.