Balancing Moral Obligations: Accountants’ Ethical Dilemma When Faced with Improper Client Instructions

Konstantin Lichtenwald

June 2, 2023



The role of accountants extends beyond merely crunching numbers; they are often entrusted with the financial integrity of their clients. However, this responsibility can sometimes clash with accountants’ moral obligations toward upholding ethical standards. A pertinent question arises: do accountant have the moral obligation to follow all of their client’s instructions, even if they ask for something improper? This article delves into the complex ethical terrain accountants navigate and explores the importance of adhering to moral principles while serving clients.

Ethics in the Accounting Profession

Accounting is a profession built on trust, integrity, and objectivity. Accountants are expected to maintain professional competence while adhering to a code of ethics, which typically encompasses integrity, objectivity, confidentiality, and professional behavior. However, when faced with a client’s request that breaches these ethical principles, accountant grapple with a moral dilemma.

The Boundaries of Professional Responsibility

Accountants are responsible for serving their client’s best interests, but this responsibility is not absolute. Accountants must distinguish between fulfilling their fiduciary duty and adhering to ethical standards. While they must provide accurate financial information and comply with legal requirements, they also must act in the public interest and maintain the public’s trust.

When Faced with Improper Instructions

When clients ask accountants to engage in unethical, fraudulent, or illegal activities, accountants face a significant ethical challenge. They must consider the potential consequences of their actions on stakeholders, the public, and their professional reputations.

Adhering to Ethical Standards

Accountants are expected to maintain professional skepticism and exercise professional judgment when assessing the legitimacy of client instructions. If an instruction is improper, accountant should refuse to comply and explore alternative courses of action. This may include advising the client of the ethical implications of their request, suggesting legal alternatives, or, if necessary, withdrawing from the engagement altogether. Upholding ethical standards takes precedence over satisfying client demands that violate these principles.

The Importance of Professional Skepticism

Professional skepticism plays a crucial role in accountants’ decision-making process. Accountants are required to critically evaluate the information provided by clients and assess the validity of their requests. They should be vigilant in detecting potential red flags that indicate fraudulent or unethical activities. By exercising professional skepticism, accountants can protect the interests of their clients while upholding ethical obligations.

Ethical Dilemmas and Guidance

Professional accounting bodies, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), guide accountant to help navigate ethical dilemmas. These bodies outline the fundamental principles that underpin ethical behavior, offer scenarios for consideration, and provide guidelines to aid accountant in making ethical decisions. Accountants are encouraged to consult these resources and seek advice from colleagues and superiors when facing ethical challenges.

The Consequences of Compromising Ethical Standards

Accountants who succumb to improper client instructions face significant personal and professional risks. Engaging in unethical conduct can lead to legal repercussions, reputational damage, loss of client trust, and potential disciplinary action by regulatory bodies. Furthermore, it can erode public confidence in the accounting profession. By adhering to ethical standards, accountant protect themselves and contribute to the profession’s overall integrity.


Accountants occupy a unique position of trust, wherein they are both advisors to their clients and stewards of the public interest. While they are responsible for serving their clients, they also have a moral obligation to uphold ethical principles. When faced with improper client instructions, accountant must carefully consider the consequences and prioritize ethical conduct over potentially harmful actions. By navigating the ethical terrain with integrity and professionalism, accountant can maintain their credibility, protect stakeholders, and preserve trust in the accounting profession.