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A Regulator Wants to Trade Permits for Favors? What Would You Do?

In April 2014, the Nederlandse Beroepsorganisatie van Accountants (NBA) launched new app for professional accountants in business to help them navigate professional dilemmas. The app poses a new question each week for users to discuss, debate, and comment on. The app also allows users to anonymously submit examples of dilemmas they have faced in their careers. At the end of the discussion period, the NBA closes out debate with a final reaction to the original dilemma.

The NBA also provides users with feedback on the impact of the choices they have made from a personal, organizational, or social perspective:

  • The personal—the effect of the user’s choices on his or her own position, for example, doing what is expected by colleagues or satisfying the wishes of the direct manager because it is beneficial to the user’s relations with others and to his or her personal career.
  • The organizational—the direct interests of the organization, such as short-term gains, cost cutting, and avoiding reputational damage. Organizational impacts also relate to acting in accordance to the wishes of the organization’s current senior management.
  • The social—acting in accordance with general ethical principles, such as honesty and integrity. This dimension also relates to the Dutch Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. In many cases, the social perspective reflects the long-term interest and sustainability of the organization.

Once users respond to 10 dilemmas, they will also receive additional feedback on how they dealt with the dilemmas through a personal ethical behavior profile. When users’ answers to subsequent dilemmas warrant any changes, their personal profiles are updated accordingly.

The first “Dilemma of the Week” offered a scenario where an international distributor says he has found an easy route through customs for your company’s merchandise. What would you do? Leave it as is? Ask for more info? Tell him that your company does not want to be associated with such dealings, or inform your top management and ask them to take a stand?

Many people have already submitted responses to the first dilemma. The most debated issue has been whether or not people are going to deal with the issue themselves or leave it to management. Some respondents have also said they would take no further action. Respondents also discussed the appropriateness of the guidance in the Dutch Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants on this issue.

Subsequent dilemmas have been about discovering your company is selling horse meat labeled as beef; how to respond to identification in your company’s accounts of an ignorant client who gets systematically overcharged; finding out that your biggest client expenses his personal items to company accounts; a request from a regulator for a favor in exchange for a permit; and on creative accounting to meet the stipulations of a company’s bank covenant. All of these situations are ones that professional accountants in business could be faced with during their career.

Do you think that such an app contributes to more ethical awareness and better ethical choices? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions on how to stimulate the ethical debate among professional accountants in business? We would love to hear from you!

Download the free app (currently only available in Dutch) or search in the app store for “DilemmApp.” (login: AiBapp, password: dilemma’s)

Simone Folkers–de Bruijn

Senior Manager, Accountants in Business, Nederlandse Beroepsorganisatie van Accountants

Simone Folkers–de Bruijn is both an Accountant in Business and applied social psychologist. She started her career in public auditing in SME’s. She was also an internal auditor at ING group where she continued her career as a PAIB working in several roles such as organizations and operational risk. She works for the Dutch professional body for accountants and specializes in culture, ethics, and behavior.

Vincent Tophoff

Former Senior Technical Manager

Vincent Tophoff was a senior technical manager at IFAC, working with the Professional Accountants in Business Committee. Previously, he was a partner at INTE-Q Integration Management, a management accountancy consulting firm in The Netherlands and senior lecturer at the postgraduate accountancy program of the Vrije University in Amsterdam.