Has professional integrity in the accountancy profession gone down the tubes? Freddy Kabini asks.
You may not have met or spoken to them yet, but the mere mention of their profession sends the shiver down your spine. It makes you think of your own mortality. "There is something of the night about them", as Ann Widdecombe, former Tory MP would put it. They are regarded with dread the world over. But with the recent image make-over, it seems they have been given a new lease of life. The public loves them more than accountants and lawyers. Recently, there was even an entire TV series dedicated to them - "Six Feet Under".
They are of course Funeral Undertakers! No, I don’t mean the Insolvency Practitioners. I mean the Morticians.
The latest Gallup survey that was conducted on 7 – 9 November 2008 shows that Funeral Directors are held in high esteem: 47% of Americans surveyed gave them a very high/high rating in Ethics and Integrity compared to 38% for accountants. There are suspicions from some quarters that the sample may not have been representative as it may have included dead people or corpses who obviously would rate Funeral Directors favourably but I think this is just sour grapes from the professions who have lost favour with the general public in recent years. Those surveyed had a beating heart and had nothing against accountants. It is worth noting that the Morticians have beaten accountants for the second year running and there is no sign of them letting up. The ACCA has set up shop in America recently to shake things up a little. Who knows? Maybe the image of bean-counters will change.
Have accountants in this country suffered a loss of public confidence to the same extent as their US counterparts? I hope not. Where has the accounting profession gone wrong? Could this be the fallout from the Enron and Arthur Anderson scandal? For those who may have forgotten, Arthur Anderson was once one of the "Big Five" accounting firms alongside PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG. In 2002, the firm was found guilty of criminal charges relating to it's handling of the audit of Enron.
If the results of the Gallup poll are repeated here in the UK, I will seriously consider retraining as a Nurse or High school teacher. It is one thing for one’s profession to be portrayed by the media as being both dull and boring but it is another for it to be perceived by the general public as lacking in honesty and ethics.
I have always assumed that accountants were amongst the most admired professionals such as nurses, pharmacists, high school teachers, medical doctors, members of the clergy and the police in terms of honesty and integrity but obviously I was wrong. The only consolation is that at 38%, accountants rank higher than lawyers (25%), journalists (18%), MP’s (12%), stockbrokers (12%), advertising practitioners (10%), business executives (12%), estate agents (17%) and trade union leaders (16%).
It is not surprising to see bankers taking a heavy battering this year. Everybody knows that the global economy is in a mess because of them and as a result, only 23% of Americans rate them high and very high in honesty and integrity. In contrast, in 2007 their rating was 35%. While their rating has declined this year, it’s still a lot higher than for MPs and lawyers.
The least admired professions are lobbyists (5%), telemarketers (5%) and car salesmen (7%).
The results are based on telephone interviews conducted on 7 – 9 November 2008 amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,010 American adults aged 18 and older.
Respondents were asked to answer the following simple question:
How would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields – very high/high, average, low/very low?
Here is a summary of the results taken from the Gallup poll:
Gallup Poll Results
Survey conducted on 7 -9 November 2008
Very high/High Average Low/Very low No opinion
% % % %
Nurses 84 14 1 *
Druggists/Pharmacists 70 27 4 *
High school teacher 65 30 5 1
Medical doctors 64 30 6 *
Clergy 56 33 8 3
Policemen 56 35 9 0
Funeral directors 47 40 8 5
Accountants 38 51 8 2
Journalists 25 44 31 1
Bankers 23 53 23 *
Building contractors 22 55 20 2
Lawyers 18 45 37 1
Estate Agents 17 57 25 2
Trade union leaders 16 45 35 4
Business executives 12 49 37 1
MPs 12 40 46 1
Stockbrokers 12 40 45 3
practitioners 10 49 38 3
Car salesmen 7 39 54 1
Telemarketers 5 33 60 2
Lobbyists 5 27 64 5
* Less than 0.5%