Accountancy and auditing are complex and technical processes. Ethics, in contrast, might be considered relatively simple. The difficult part of ethics, it may be argued, is not knowing what we ought to do, but getting ourselves, and others, to do the right thing. Truthfulness, honesty, care, loyalty, integrity: we know what they require, but we do not know if and how these requirements can be met. If this is indeed the case, and we want to promote ethical auditing, then we need to attract decent people into the profession, train them well, and not subject them to more temptation than they can cope with. Beyond that, all that is required is a code of ethics laying down minimum standards of professional conduct, with a complaints and disciplinary process to deal with any errant behaviour that comes to the attention of professional bodies, such as CPA Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants, who jointly issue a Code of Professional Conduct for the guidance of their members.
There is sufficient truth in this scenario to explain, but not to justify, the minimal attention that is given to ethics in the training of accountants and auditors, despite the growing international literature on the subject (Albrecht 1992; Maurice 1996; Morse & Blake 1998), and the absence of ethical debate and concern within the profession. Provided the expertise is there, it is assumed that ordinary moral sensibility, together with the good example of senior colleagues, can take care of the ethical side of the business. Attention to the ethics of auditing engages the professional firms only with respect to risk minimisation in relation to the serious illegal activities of the occasional ‘bad apple’ and the likelihood of legal liabilities and a general concern for their reputation. In these circumstances, it is understandable that research into the ethics of accountants and auditors is focused on discovering how to maximise compliance with generally accepted principles of professional conduct.