Accountants and Their Conduct: Implications of Behavioral Ethics December 5, 2013 Robert Prentice [email protected] Let’s start with a little survey… A quick quiz: Question #1: I have solid, well-considered ethical beliefs that can be changed only by reasoned arguments or new evidence. ___True ___ False Question #2: I have character and integrity that will carry me through difficult situations and hard choices. ___ True ___ False Good News: You’re not as unethical as you could be… How many of you stole candy from a baby this week? How many of you took an opportunity to mug a little old lady? Bad News: You are not as ethical as you think you are. We are all Lance Armstrong…sort of. Humility The McGurk Effect Optical Illusions There are even tactile illusions… A quick quiz: Question #1: I have solid, well-considered ethical beliefs that can be changed only by reasoned arguments or new evidence. ___True ___ False A quick quiz: Question #1: I have solid, well-considered ethical beliefs that can be changed only by reasoned arguments or new evidence. ___True _X_ False Question #2: I have character and integrity that will carry me through difficult situations and hard choices. ___ True ___ False Question #2: I have character and integrity that will carry me through difficult situations and hard choices. ___ True _X_ False If there is one overwhelming finding in behavioral ethics research over the past decade, it is this: If there is one overwhelming finding in behavioral ethics research over the past decade, it is this: Most people (including accountants) want to and do think of themselves as good people 80% or so of people believe themselves to be more moral than their peers 92% of Americans are satisfied with their moral character A higher percentage of people believe they themselves will get into heaven than that Mother Theresa did. Most people (including accountants) want to and do think of themselves as good people Most people (including accountants) frequently act unethically, usually in minor ways Most people want to and do think of themselves as good people Most people frequently act unethically, usually in minor ways Our accomplice: Moral Beliefs and Attitudes: 10---9---8---7---6---5---4---3---2---1 Very Very UnEthical ethical Moral Beliefs and Attitudes: 1) Self-Interest Your views on the morality of homosexual conduct might well change if your son comes out of the closet…. “Rob Portman Supports Same-Sex Marriage After Learning Son Is Gay” Senator Rob Portman, (R)-Ohio Your views on the morality of premarital sex might change if your teenage daughter got pregnant… 2) Emotional Reaction 2) Emotional Reaction Disgust 10---9---8---7---6---5---4---3---2---1 Very Ethical Very Unethical Frank is on a footbridge over the trolley tracks. He knows trolleys and can see that the one approaching the bridge is out of control, with its conductor passed out. On the track under the bridge, there are five people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. Frank knows that the only way to stop an out-of-control trolley is to drop a very heavy weight into its path. But the only available, sufficiently heavy weight is a large person also watching the trolley from the footbridge. Frank can save the five by shoving the large person onto the track in the path of the trolley, resulting in his death; or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five die. Is it morally permissible for Frank to push the large person onto the tracks? Bottom Line: Our moral views are not as fixed as we think. Moral Actions Most of us (including accountants) believe that we have rock solid character that leads us to act morally…. Most people (including accountants) are largely unaware of factors that cause good people to do bad things: Cognitive errors Social pressures Organizational pressures Other environmental factors Fundamental Attribution Error: Underweight situational factors in others Overweight them in ourselves Let’s Talk About Some of those Factors 1) Transparency “Integrity is living your values even when no one is looking.” 1) Transparency 1) Transparency 1) Transparency 1) Transparency 2) The Self-Serving Bias a. Affects how we collect, process, and even remember information. i. Collect “The speeches I drafted … were composed of facts filtered from the stacks of reports and intelligence that daily hit my desk. As I read these reports, facts and judgments that contradicted the British version of events would almost literally fade into nothingness. Facts that reinforced our narrative would stand out to me almost as if highlighted, to be later deployed by me, my ambassador and my ministers like hand grenades in the diplomatic trench warfare.” ii. Process i. Football game ii. Capital punishment iii. Remember b. People respond to incentives, even if unconsciously. i. The more at stake; the more we respond. Earning Management b. People respond to incentives, even if unconsciously. i. The more at stake; the more we respond. ii. David Duncan & Enron c. We are often unaware of how we are impacted. i. Doctors & Drug Companies Affects others: 61% Affects me: 16% d. Numerous studies show that accountants are affected by the self-serving bias, like everyone else, but they also tend not to believe it: i. In 2000, a top AICPA official testified before the SEC, saying: “We are professionals that practice by the highest moral standards. We would never be influenced by our own personal financial well being.” ii. “Ethical decisions are biased by a stubborn view of oneself as moral, competent, and deserving, and thus, not susceptible to conflicts of interest. … An ethical blind spot emerges as decision makers … assume that conflicts of interest are nonissues.” [Chugh et al.] Dolly Chugh, NYU 3) Obedience to Authority 3. Obedience to Authority a. Milgram study 3) Obedience to Authority a. Milgram study b. Auditors Who Know What Boss Wants 4) Conformity Bias 4) Conformity Bias a. Asch Study Solomon Asch 4) Conformity Bias a. Asch Study b. Betty Vinson of WorldCom 4) Conformity Bias a. Asch Study b. Betty Vinson of WorldCom c. KPMG: “You’re either on the team or off the team” 5) Role Morality Consider: ABC Drug Company’s most profitable drug, its internal studies indicate, causes 14-22 “unnecessary” deaths a year. Competitors offer a safe medication with the same benefits at the same price. If regulators knew of the internal study, they would ban sale of the drug. Individual morality: 97% condemn When asked to assume the role of directors of ABC, 100% of 57 groups said that ABC should continue to sell. 5) Incrementalism. a. The slippery slope b. Abu Ghraib “But after four or five nights of running the M.I. block of the Abu Ghraib hard site, Davis said, “I just wanted to go home.” He felt that what he did and saw there was wrong. “But it was reaffirmed and reassured through the leadership: We’re at war. This is Military Intelligence. This is what they do. And it’s just a job,” he said. “So, over time, you become numb to it, and it’s nothing. It just became the norm. You see it—that sucks. It sucks to be him. And that’s it. You move on.” “In the beginning,” [Sabrina Harman] said, “you see somebody naked and you see underwear on their head an you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty bad—I can’t believe I just saw that.’ and then you go to bed and you come back the next day and you see something worse. Well, it seems like the day before wasn’t so bad.” c. Enron CAO Rick Causey, a UT graduate, needed to do a deal to disguise a delay in recording losses. An executive balked. Causey: “Is it possible the deal is still alive?” Exec: “No.” Causey: “So there’s no chance of it coming back?” Exec: “No” Causey: “Is there even a little bit of a chance of it coming back?” Finally, the exec took the hint and the deal was declared “undead”. The exec later said: “You did it once, it smelled bad. You did it again, it didn’t smell bad.” Re-cap: It’s hard for us to believe that we could screw up the way infamous white collar criminals have done, because we feel we are good people. But they felt they were good people, too. Other factors: 6) Framing 7) Loss Aversion 8)Tangible & Abstract Free ethics video series brought to you by McCombs: http://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/ Cara Biasucci, Film Maker DeSteno & Valdesolo: “Morality, contrary to popular belief, can’t be controlled simply by strength of will and reason.” Implications for IESBA: 1) Codes of Professional Conduct are a Good Idea for Several Reasons: 1) Codes of Conduct are a Good Idea for Several Reasons: a. Their existence and required training can help keep ethics in accountants’ frame of reference: i) Cheating Study ii) Expense Report Study b. They typically reduce conflicts of interest. i) Important because accountants tend not to believe they are susceptible, just like everyone else c. They help hold people accountable. i) Haidt says: “…the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.” Jon Haidt NYU The End. Thanks for your time.