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Ethics should be the focus of corporate culture


14 Feb 2014


Euro & Finance

Governance can be a far-reaching tool for contributing to growth or change of direction, but over regulation remains a concern, according to participants at a debate hosted by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) in Brussels. 

The main drivers of individuals’ and groups’ behaviour in organisations were debated at the two-hour high-level ACCA roundtable as part of a one-year international research project called Channelling Corporate Behaviour.

Having a healthy corporate culture, with particular focus on ethics, should be seen as a necessity; but it poses a huge challenge for both businesses and regulators, said the roundtable participants. 

The meeting focussed on what causes people to do things which are dysfunctional for the organisation in which they work. Regulation clearly has a place, particularly in financial services and where public or employee safety is a concern, but there was considerable scepticism from many about the need for any more. A more collaborative regulation process could promote better compliance and better behaviour. An important factor in creating an open culture is getting rid of the fear of failure. This, however, according to attendees at the debate, probably cannot be regulated. 

Other issues that were debated at the ACCA roundtable included the board composition and the information it gets. Boards need, but do not always get, timely unbiased information and there tends to be an asymmetry of information between the executive and non-executive board members. The prevailing wisdom that more non-executive directors (NEDs) is a good thing was questioned, particularly as it can be easier for a NED to keep quiet and not challenge a decision if there are many other NEDS in the same meeting. It was noted that there is evidence that smaller boards tend to make better decisions than do big ones. 

Paul Moxey, ACCA’s head of corporate governance and risk management, said: 'It is misguided to go for a simple solution to a complex problem and getting culture right is complex. There are no simple fixes. However, we must develop better measures for assessing what makes for long-term organisational success and find ways to reward good behaviour. A higher level of accountability can be achieved through greater transparency- sunlight can be highly effective in encouraging best behaviour.'

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Notes to Editors

  1. The meeting was part of a year-long international project co-funded by the academic research funding body ESRC. Similar meetings have so far been held in London, New York, Bangalore and Dubai. The project will report at the end of June. The meeting in Brussels was attended by senior figures from business, the EC, the EP and representative bodies.
  2. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. 
  3. We support our 162,000 members and 428,000 students in 173 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. We work through a network of over 89 offices and centres and more than 8,500 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through our public interest remit, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence. 
  4. Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. We believe that accountants bring value to economies in all stages of development and seek to develop capacity in the profession and encourage the adoption of global standards. Our values are aligned to the needs of employers in all sectors and we ensure that through our qualifications, we prepare accountants for business. We seek to open up the profession to people of all backgrounds and remove artificial barriers, innovating our qualifications and delivery to meet the diverse needs of trainee professionals and their employers.