Technology, Ethics, and the Pandemic: How Accounting’s Key Players Adapted

During the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, every sector had to navigate rapid changes, not least the world of accounting. A recent study by Emilio Boulianne, Annie Lecompte, and Mélissa Fortin, published in „Accounting and the Public Interest,“ explores how pivotal actors within the accounting industry—namely the Big 4 accounting firms, professional accounting associations, and audit regulators—handled the intersection of technology and ethics during this tumultuous period.

The pandemic forced organizations to rapidly adopt new technologies to support remote work and maintain operations, accelerating the use of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud services. This shift, however, brought about significant ethical challenges, particularly concerning data security and the integrity of financial reporting. The research highlights how these key accounting players responded to these challenges, revealing varied approaches.

Professional accounting associations emphasized the dual role of technology as a facilitator of work and a potential ethical hazard. They strove to balance the benefits of technology with the importance of maintaining professional ethics, especially in a remote working environment that might tempt corners to be cut.

In contrast, the Big 4 accounting firms focused more on the efficiencies and advantages provided by technology, with less emphasis on the ethical dimensions. This approach suggests a preference for commercial logic over professional ethics, raising questions about their influence on the industry’s ethical standards during the crisis.

Audit regulators, meanwhile, expressed concerns about how firms managed resources and upheld ethical standards amidst the rapid changes. Their insights are crucial, considering they play a significant role in ensuring that the rush to adopt new technologies does not come at the expense of ethical accounting practices.

This study not only sheds light on the differing responses by key accounting actors but also underscores the ongoing need to integrate ethical considerations into technology adoption within the accounting profession. As the sector continues to evolve post-pandemic, these findings serve as a reminder of the importance of maintaining trust and integrity in the face of rapid technological change.

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