made by Saadry Dunkel

Professionalism and the Accountancy Profession

Author: Saadry Dunkel
Date: 18.02.2011
Title: Accountancy is a profession
Harvard Referencing Source System:
Saadry DUNKEL. 2011. Accountancy is a profession. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 April 15].

Accountancy is a Profession

The current global financial crisis has had an unprecedented effect on the greater part of international markets. Too risky investments of some companies, among other reasons, have caused an unprecedented recession, which is now affecting the public interests, with a very significant increase in unemployment. Many ask for reassurance and therefore turn to the accountancy profession. More than ever, people need to know if “accountancy is a profession”. To justify this claim, this essay will analyze several theories of social professionalism; namely the Weberian and Marxian perspectives. The Weberian theory regards capitalism as a positive asset motivating the labour force. On the other hand, Marxians promote socialism and emphasis on the need to regularize production. The discussion will include the role of professions and their interaction with both the government and the community and discuss whether accountancy can be defines as a profession.

Primarily, one must understand the definition of profession and the role it plays in the society. The aim of a profession is to serve the community by producing goods or services for individuals or groups. The professionalism can be defined as “the skill, competence, or character expected of a member of a highly trained profession” (Encarta 2009). Quite often professions have a code of ethics, Higgins and Olson suggest that “a code of ethics […] is vital to the process of professional self-discipline” (1972: 33). For example, in medicine, students have to swear to respect the Oath of Hippocrates before they can become doctors.

As expert in their field, professions must ensure that they can be trusted by the community. “People turn to professionals not only for service but for advice” (Higgins & Olson, 1972:39), they have an important responsibility and they should influence people in a professional manner. This is why a “code of ethics bears not only internally on a profession’s own affairs but externally on its position in society” (Higgins & Olson, 1972: 39). Carr-Saunders and Wilson presented in Mitchell et al., explain that “members of a professions are altruistic, unselfishly promote the public interest and adhere to a professional code of conduct” (Carr- Saunders and Wilson, 1933 cited by A. Mitchell, T. Puxty, P. Sikka and H. Willmott, 1994: 40).

Macdonald explains that “the professional project […] needs to strive both economically and socially. […] The service that professionals provide are […] intangible and the purchaser has to take them on trust” (1995: 32). Indeed, vocations need to satisfy the interest of the community and their own economic interests to survive in this capitalistic world. The latter argument describes a conflict of interests because professions are profit seekers. Weberians, cited by Macdonald, recognize that “professions are interested groups [engage] in competition with each other”. (1995: 32) Therefore, they cannot really be objective or protect fully the “public‟s interests”. Baker argues that the public interest is often defined by “a particular social class or group, and not necessarily those of a ruling or dominant class” (2005: 692). The latter argument emphasises the need to dissociate the interests of several social classes, and not to take in account only the dominating one. Social interests or public interests also include the interest of the labour forces, the pensioners or the unemployed class.

Caramanis points out that professional “major objective is the achievement of (preferential) access to the market for their expertise and the advancement of the interests of their (most influential) members” (Caramanis, 2005: 196). The expansion of professions was predictable but they need proper governance. Marxian defines, cited by Macdonald, capitalistic market as “an inherent tendency to monopoly, which enables the owners of the means of production to dominate all markets and therefore society” (1999: 36). Profession cannot pretend to be ethical when their only concern is the satisfaction of one group of individuals. Monopolies are interesting for profit-seeking organisations but they are not beneficial to institutions. Accounting profession dominate markets and seeks expansion to other countries and other markets. Sikka explains that, “government departments have been colonised by accountants and accounting technologies with little evidence of any improvement in government accountability or performance” (Sikka, 2009). Logically, the public was expecting that with the increase of accounting professionals; there would be an improvement in the governance of the profession. However, the expansion is such that almost every transaction needs an accountant. Despite governments attempts to regulate the accountancy profession they have “failed to deliver the promised advances in business transparency, accountability and good governance” (Sikka, 2009).

The accountancy vocation has failed to satisfy the public expectation and they are losing their credibility. Johnson remains us that, “a profession is not, then, an occupation, but a means of controlling an occupation” (1972: 45). Governments need to regulate the economy and are relying on accountants to avoid fraud and unethical behaviour. The AICPA1 defines that “a distinguishing mark of a profession is acceptance of its responsibility to the public […] interest [which] is defined as the […] well-being of the community”. Despite the latter argument, accounting profession uses “their expertise to excel at money laundering, bribery, corruption and other antisocial practices” (Sikka, 2009). Rules are necessary but apparently not efficient; Sikka explains that despite the effort of the “elected governments […] to develop tax laws, […] accountancy firms can undermine them within hours [in pursuit of private profits.]” (Sikka, 2005).

The profession of accountancy has become an industrial process which has downgraded the quality of their product. The accounting products are now commercialized and advertise to attract new „clients‟. An article mentiones that “an accountancy firm partner was bold enough to state recently [that] „No matter what legislation is in place, the accountants and lawyers will find a way around it. Rules are rules, but rules are meant to be broken.‟” (Sikka 2005) This statement proves that the ethics of the accounting profession cannot be trusted. KPMG has stated in their annual report that their clients “look to us to design tailor-made tax strategies allowing them to be both compliant and tax efficient” and that “the Tax practices in our Swiss, UK and German firms are particularly active in supporting family offices, a growing source of global investment capital.” (KPMG, 2010) Such a claim can be problematic for the credibility of the firm when Teather reveals that “KPMG […] agreed to pay $456m (£255m) to settle allegations that it promoted illegal tax shelters, avoiding a potentially devastating criminal prosecution” (2005).

To conclude, accounting is a profession and as such faces challenges. Accountancy profession needs a proper code of ethics and more rigid governance by the government. The profession of accountancy should serve the public interest. Communities are revolted by the actions of accountants, and they demand retribution. The collapse of Enron and Lehman Brothers has left employees without jobs. The profession needs to be more transparent in their actions in order for them to regain the public trust. Many scholars are claiming that the behavior of accountancy profession is not representing a proper profession. The profession of accountancy is not interested in the general opinion, only that of shareholders which they should satisfy. Therefore, in order to regain their title of professional, accountants should help government reduce unethical behavior. A solution could be to nationalize the accountancy profession or big accounting firms. For example, in the profession of medicine, hospitals are owned by the government. In Canada, doctors are remunerated directly from the community and no individual has to pay extra for a prestation. This could help governments to have a direct impact on accountant‟s actions. However, this would mean the end of big bonuses of accountants.


Annual Report:

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Austin Mitchell, Tony Puxty, Prem Sikka and Hugh (1994). Ethical Statements as Smokescreens for Sectional Interests: The Case of the UK Accountancy Profession. Journal of Business Ethics. 13 (1), 39-51.

Richard Baker. (2005). What is the meaning of “the public interest”? : Examining the ideology of the American public accounting profession. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal. 18 (5), 609-703.

Constantinos Caramanis. (2005). Rationalisation, charisma and accounting professionalisation: perspectives on the intra-professional conflict in Greece, 1993– 2001. Accounting, Organizations and Society. 30 (2), 195-221.


Carr-Saunders (1964). „The Professions‟. 2nd London, Frank Cass & Co Ltd. p 208-220.

Keith Macdonald (1999). „The Sociology of the Professions‟, 2nd ed. London, Sage. 36.

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Terence Johnson (1972). „Professions and Power‟, 6th ed. London, Macmillan Education Ltd. 21-51.


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1 The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.