Ethical and professional considerations

Content Summary

Providing professional advice

When providing professional advice, accountants have a duty to provide advice and assistance that is competent and ethically sound. The interests of the client are important, but there is also a duty to act in the public interest and not exclusively in the interests of the client or employer.

What is in the client's best interests is not always easy to discern in situations involving potential financial abuse. This is especially so where the suspected perpetrator is a trusted family member or friend.

A decision to not intervene may leave the client exposed to potentially devastating loss and injury. A decision to intervene may trigger family dispute, distress for the client and loss of business for the accountant.

Adults of any age have the right and, unless proven to the contrary, are presumed to have the capacity to make their own decisions, even bad ones that ignore or open up potential for financial abuse.

Intervention is not a matter that should be taken lightly. As a professional you may face a difficult challenge when deciding upon an appropriate response.

Ethical considerations

  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Maintain your client's confidentiality.
  • Avoid contributing to the perpetration of unlawful acts.
  • Ensure your client is well informed; give comprehensive advice.
  • Ensure your client understands the advice and has capacity to act.
  • Be respectful. With older clients, beware of ageism and making an assumption that because the client is old and perhaps frail they are not capable of making a valid decision.
  • Your client's best interests come first.

Professional considerations

Research has shown that many professionals, when coming across a situation where financial abuse is suspected, take no action.

The reasons for this sort of response appear to be:

  • perceived confidentiality issues
  • belief that their actions would not improve the situation.

Additional reasons for lack of action may be:

  • uncertainty that what is being observed is abuse
  • uncertainty as to what to do about it
  • concern about potential conflict of interests
  • lack of willingness to take action when it is the client who may be the perpetrator
  • a desire not to get involved.


If you are facing an ethical dilemma, a conversation with an independent ethics trained professional can really help. The Ethics Centre’s Australia-wide service, Ethi-call, is free and confidential. Ethi-call does not provide legal advice.