Ethics and New Technologies

Ethics is a fundamental part of being a professional accountant. Therefore, as accountants make growing use of new technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence, they need to think about the ethical implications of the technology, and whether they are managing any ethical risks appropriately.

Being ethical

Ethics is all about ‘doing the right thing’ and so when using new technologies, it’s important to start with thinking about any harm that they could cause. This could be through invasions of privacy, for example gathering more and more data about staff activities. It could be using biased data or algorithms to make decisions that are unfair or discriminatory. Or maybe it could be through using AI to optimise tax planning and push the boundaries of ethical conduct.

Doing a full assessment of the potential ethical risks, building on tools such as privacy impact assessments, can be a helpful way to structure thinking here and identify any mitigating actions. But strong leadership is also essential to building an ethical culture and setting the right tone, especially where ethical choices conflict with profit motives.

Being accountable

Most people don’t set out to do things that are unethical or harmful. But of course, things can go wrong and there can be bad outcomes, even where intentions are good. Therefore, having the right controls and governance around technology is critical to ensuring that things are being done as intended.

Central to being ethical and doing things right is the notion of accountability. Having an individual to blame if things go wrong is a powerful motivator for asking questions and getting things right. An algorithm can never be held accountable, so it is essential to ensure that people remain in the loop and understand enough about the technology to be accountable in a meaningful way for the outcome.

Embedding ethics and accountability

Professions such as accountancy have an opportunity to build on their existing approaches to ethics and demonstrate leadership in this area. But there are also risks – failure to consider the ethics of new technologies could undermine the trust of clients or slow down the adoption of new systems.

Therefore, in order to maximise the benefits from tech such as AI, it is crucial to embed thinking about ethics and accountability early in the innovation process. To find out more about the issues, download ICAEWs report on New technologies, ethics and accountability at https://www.icaew.com/technical/technology/technology-and-the-profession/new-technologies-ethics-and-accountability

The ICAEW are working in association with Alternative Events to deliver the Alternative Accountancy Strategic IT conference – please request your delegate place here.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

ICAEW is a world leading professional membership organisation that promotes, develops and supports over 181,500 chartered accountants and students worldwide. ICAEW provide qualifications and professional development, shares knowledge, insight and technical expertise, and protect the quality and integrity of the accountancy and finance profession. As leaders in accountancy, finance and business ICAEW members have the knowledge, skills and commitment to maintain the highest professional standards and integrity. Together contributing to the success of individuals, organisations, communities and economies around the world.