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Are Ethics Important For Professional Accountants?
Professional accountancy ethics is paramount. Today as the world of business and finance adopts international standards of accounting and auditing, it becomes more necessary to follow some Code of Ethics outlined by international and national accounting bodies. Before arguing in favor of the topic, let’s look at some basic concepts:
A profession is a job that requires extensive training and the study and mastery of specialized knowledge, and usually has a professional association, code of conduct and certification or licensing process; for example engineering, medicine, social work, teaching, law, finance, military, nursing and Accountancy etc. Classically there were only three professions: military, medicine and law. Each of these professions holds a specific code of ethics and members are almost all required to swear some form of oath to uphold the ethics, thus ‘claiming’ a higher basis of accountability. Each of these professions provides and also requires extensive training in the meaning, value and importance of its particular oath in the practice of that profession.
An Accountancy Practitioner is known as an Accountant. Qualified Accountant, Accountant, Professional Accountant or Accountancy Practitioner is a legally certified accountancy and financial expert. Accountants not only work in public practice but many of them work within private corporations, the financial industry and various government bodies. Accountancy (profession) or accounting (methodology) is the measurement, disclosure or assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities, lenders and other stakeholders and decision makers to make resource allocations and policy making decisions.
As with many other professions there are many professional bodies for accountants around the world. Some of them are legally recognized in their jurisdictions such as British qualified accountants including Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA or FCCA), Chartered Accountants (CA, ACA or FCA), Canadian qualified accountants such as Chartered Accountants and Certified General Accountants (CA or CGA) and American qualified Accountants such as Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and others. Other statutory and non-statutory accountancy qualifications are Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Associated Cost and Management Accountant (ACMA), Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and others.
In Pakistan, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan is the only professional and accountancy body that has the right to confer the title of Chartered Accountant. ICAP is a member of IFAC (International Federation of Accountants, IASB (International Accounting Standards Board), Confederation of Asian & Pacific Accountants (CAPA) and South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA). ICAP members have reached 4,089 since March 1, 2007 data.
Role of Professional Accountants:
Accountants are independent business advisors. Accountants can offer many services. Accountants can be registered auditors, able to set up client accounting systems, be a tax planning advisor, or a fraud and fraud detector, able to budget and analyze financial statement, advising clients on financing decisions, providing specialist knowledge and helping to maintain an ethical environment.
After discussing the main concepts and roles of professional accountants we are in a better position to reflect on what professional ethics is and why it is important in the field of accountancy.
Definition of Ethics
The word ‘Ethics’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word ethikos; means customs and habits. A major branch of philosophy that is the study of the values and customs of a person or group and includes the analysis and application of concepts such as right and wrong, good and bad and dos and don’ts.
Code of Ethics:
In the context of a code adopted by a profession or by a government organization to regulate that profession, an ethical code can be styled as a code of professional responsibility, which can eliminate difficult issues of what behavior is ‘ethical’. The code of ethics is usually a formal statement of the organization’s values on some ethical and social issues related to the profession and the practice of professional knowledge. It also includes principles and procedures for specific behavioral situations.
Ethics in Professional Accountancy:
The general ethical standards of society apply to people in professions such as medicine, law, nursing and accountancy and others like others. However, society places higher expectations on professionals. People should have confidence in the quality of complex services provided by professionals
The ethics of the accountancy profession are important to accounting professionals and to those who rely on their services. Stakeholders including clients, credit grantors, government, taxation authorities, employees, investors, business and financial community and others see them as very competent, reliable, objective and neutral people. Therefore, professional accountants, must not only be well qualified but have a high level of professional integrity. Because of these high expectations, professionals adopt codes of ethics; also known as codes of professional conduct. These codes of conduct call on their members to maintain a level of self-discipline that goes beyond the requirements of laws and regulations. Each of the major professional associations for accountants has a code of ethics.
As mentioned earlier, professional accountants can be of two types. One who works for companies or independently runs companies that provide accounting, auditing and other advisory services to clients; these are called public practitioners. Others are those employees of organizations and may serve as internal auditors, management accountants, financial managers and financial analysts. Regardless of the role of accountants, they follow the code of ethics that applies to their professional behavior although there are some special provisions for those in public practice. [Reference: Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants-International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)].
International Federation of Accountants-IFAC:
The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) is a federation of all accountancy bodies around the world. All major international and national associations such as ACCA, AICPA, ICMA, ICAP, IASB etc. are all its member organizations. The mission of IFAC, as stated in its constitution, is “the global development and promotion of the accountancy profession with consistent standards, able to provide services of consistent high quality in the interest of public” [Ref: Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants-IFAC]. In furtherance of this mission, the IFAC Board established the IFAC Ethics Committee to develop and issue, under its own authority, high-quality ethical standards and other statements for professional accountants to use in whole world. The Code of Ethics establishes ethical requirements for professional accountants. A member body or company may not apply less stringent standards than those stated in this Code.
The purpose of creating this code of conduct is to harmonize these standards and practices in a global perspective. The public can only trust these professionals if it is made mandatory to observe and follow strict regulations and codes worldwide. A professional accountant is required to adhere to the following basic principles mentioned in this Code of Ethics:[Ref: Section 100.4 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants]
· Integrity: A professional accountant must be honest and forthright in all professional and business relationships.
· Purpose: A professional accountant must not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to dominate professional or business judgments.
· Professional Skill and Due Diligence: A professional accountant has a continuing duty to maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level necessary to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional service. A professional accountant must act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards when providing professional services.
· Confidentiality: A professional accountant must respect the confidentiality of information obtained as a result of professional and business relationships and must not disclose such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is legal or professional right or duty to disclose. This information should not be used for the personal benefit of the professional accountant.
· Professional Conduct: A professional accountant must comply with relevant laws and regulations and must refrain from any action that would bring the profession into disrepute.
The Code of Ethics defined in the ‘Members Handbook’ for members of ICAP Pakistan is in accordance with:
· IFAC Code of Ethics and International Auditing Standards
· International Accounting Standards
· The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan – ICAP
· Relevant legislation
[Ref: Members Handbook-ICAP]
This Code of Ethics deals in detail with the role of Chartered Accountants in given situations. For example there are clear directives on the prohibition of accepting gifts, long interactions with clients, advertising the company’s name beyond specified limits, handling client money without good faith. reason, disclosure of client records (other than permitted), acceptance of fees offered. to the client which is lower than what exists in the market and so on.
After discussing in detail the importance of ethics in the accounting profession, we will conclude the topic with this last note that accountancy as a profession is acceptable and trusted only when the ability to use professional judgment based on a foundation of ethics; broad but deep technical skills and strategic knowledge are used by a professional accountant. Then the general public can trust the integrity of this profession.
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