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Confidentiality versus Whistleblowing in the Public Interest—Debating the Responsibility of Professional Accountants

Paul Thompson  | 

In May-July 2014, the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA, the Ethics Board) will be holding a series of three global roundtables to gain additional feedback on its project to address professional accountants’ responsibilities regarding the disclosure to an appropriate authority of suspected non-compliance with laws and regulations by a client or employer. The roundtables will bring together representatives from a broad range of stakeholder groups around the world, including regulators, investors, preparers, audit committee members, IFAC member bodies, firms and national standard setters, to share their perspectives on the Ethics Board’s indicative direction. As space is limited, attendance is by invitation only. If you are interested in participating, you are invited to submit your expression of interest via email to, indicating your name, job title, organization and preferred location.

  • Hong Kong S.A.R, China, on May 20, 2014;
  • Brussels, Belgium, on June 13, 2014; and
  • Washington DC, USA, on July 10, 2014.

If you are unable to attend, we encourage you to share your views below.  

Background & Developments

The Ethics Board initiated the project in response to regulatory concerns that the current confidentiality provisions in the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (the Code) are an impediment to whistleblowing in relation to non-compliance or suspected non-compliance with laws and regulations. The issues revolve around how to balance professional accountants’ responsibility to act in the public interest against confidentiality, one of the five fundamental principles in the Code.

At its December 2013 meeting, the Board discussed its latest proposals (see agenda item 5A and meeting podcast (at 6:14) here) and plans to consult with stakeholders on the revised proposals at the roundtables before a new exposure draft is issued. The initial Exposure Draft, Responding to a Suspected Illegal Act (August 2012), described the circumstances in which a professional accountant would be required or expected to breach confidentiality and disclose the matter to an appropriate authority.

Join the Debate

The ED, Responding to a Suspected Illegal Act, attracted a lot of responses including from IFAC’s Small and Medium Practices (SMP)  and Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Committees.

At the heart of this debate is what is reasonable to ask of auditors and other professional accountants within their public interest mandate. What do you think?

Paul Thompson

Technical Director, European Federation of Accountants and Auditors for SMEs

Paul Thompson is EFAA Technical Director and a consultant dedicated to thought leadership and development of the global accountancy profession. Mr. Thompson also serves on the International Accounting Standard Board's SME Implementation Group and is a member of Nottingham University Business School Malaysia’s Industry Advisory Board, an advisory group providing strategic advice to the Business School. He  also advises developing professional accountancy organizations in Europe and Asia.

From 2004 to 2016 Mr. Thompson worked for IFAC, latterly as a director, overseeing support of small- and medium-sized practices and professional accountants in business, research and innovation, and the Knowledge Gateway.

Prior to his work with IFAC, Mr. Thompson worked for Touche Ross & Co., London before going on to lecture on corporate reporting and analysis at universities in the UK, Singapore, and Malaysia. He has a number of publications in academic journals and the professional press in the areas of ethical finance, corporate reporting, corporate governance, integrated reporting, practice management and the future of the profession.

Mr. Thompson graduated from the University of Warwick with a bachelor of science in accounting and financial analysis and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.