Accounting ethics is a field of professional ethics which pertains specifically to accounting. Whether accountants work in public or private practice, they are expected to adhere to ethical standards which are designed to ensure that accountants behave in a way which is ethical and consistent. In some regions, in order to be certified as an accountant, one must indicate agreement to comply with an ethical code, and people can be stripped of their certification if they fail to abide by ethical codes. For most professional organizations of accountants, in order to be members, people must agree to and uphold ethical standards, and they will be removed from the organization if they fail to do so.
The earliest documented discussions of accounting ethics appear to date to the 1400s, and many of the ethical issues which pertain to accounting continue to be the same, even if the financial world of today would be unimaginable to a 15th century accountant. One of the key issues with accounting ethics is that poor ethical behavior on the part of an accountant does not just potentially hurt a client, it can also hurt society. If, for example, an accountant colludes in falsifying financial statements, this hurts investors in a company, taxpayers who may be caught up in government bailouts or regulatory efforts pertaining to the company, and the workers at the company.
Accountants are supposed to use due diligence in their work, confirming that the records they work with are accurate and are fairly presented. They are also supposed to avoid conflicts of interest which could compromise their work, to avoid illegal activity, and to report suspected illegal activity on the part of clients. Accountants are also expected to behave responsibly towards their clients by billing them accurately, fully disclosing information, protecting their financial documents, and so forth.
Accounting schools usually dedicate classroom time to instruction in accounting ethics, expecting students to complete ethics courses which include essay writing about ethics as well as the completion of other assignments. These courses promote high ethical standards, familiarize students with the expectations found in accounting ethics codes, and make students aware of the consequences of failing to abide by ethical standards.
A number of financial crises worldwide have shown that accounting ethics is not enough to stop accountants from behaving unethically. Some accountants and accounting organizations have clearly overstepped ethical lines for money, prestige, and other reasons.