This is from the “Accounting Makes Cents” podcast episode #5 released on Monday, 24 January 2022.
So what I wanted to do for this episode is to start off from where I got the inspiration for today’s topic. The title of this episode is the Trolley Problem. And for children of ethical studies, you will know what this is. And for those who don’t, well, stay tuned to learn about it.
Jump to show notes.
This episode actually was inspired by pop culture. Now, I love pop culture. And I tend to actually link a lot of my accounting lessons to pop culture references. I myself did not know about the Trolley Problem until I watched one of the episodes of the Good Place during Season 2, episode 6 of that series. I really found that episode very entertaining to say the least. I think that the visualisation and realistic simulation of the trolley problem showed the gravity of such decisions, and to contrast that with the comedic endeavours of the characters of that show was really brilliant. Anyways, if you ever wanna check it out, the title of that episode is also called the Trolley Problem. And I’m sure you’ll find an episode of it on Youtube. But if I find it, I’ll put the Youtube link up on the show notes.
So What is the Trolley Problem?
The trolley problem is a series of thought experiments where you are presented with an ethical problem of sacrificing one life in exchange to save many others. Now it was called the trolley problem because the experiment normally starts off with a trolley, which is barrelling down its tracks on a collision course that will result in hurting 5 people that are stuck further down the tracks for whatever reason. You have the option to change the course of the trolley, pull the lever to get the trolley on a different track, but this choice will lead to hurting 1 person down the second track. This 1 person was of course originally safe but now because of your decision to change the course of the trolley, you’ve put this person in harm’s way. So you have this choice to make whether to sacrifice 5 people versus just the 1. There are variations to the trolley problem. One variation goes something like you know that 1 person very well, maybe he or she is close to you, and the other 5 are strangers. Would this change your decision in any way? The gist is, that the option will always have you either do nothing or do something to divert the trolley.
CIMA Code of Ethics
As CIMA accountants, we are familiar with ethics. Granted, it’s not in the same life-and-death kind of ethical dilemma that the trolley problem presents, but we still encounter them in our work life. And also unlike the trolley problem where it gets a bit muddy because there are moral implications to both options. However when we deal with ethics on a CIMA exam or our work life in general, it’s clear-cut or at least more clear-cut than the trolley problem.
On the topic of CIMA ethics, there are 5 fundamental principles which underpin the CIMA code of ethics. We’ll talk about the 5 in a bit. But what I just wanted to mention is that every accountant, be it a student or an associate, has to comply with this code. Contrary to belief, it is not only the public accountants that need to follow the rules of ethics.
So let’s try and talk about the principles. I mentioned there were 5.
The first one is confidentiality. This principle deals with information and the disclosure of that information. Ethics does not allow you to disclose any professional information you may have about a company unless you have obtained specific permission to do so, or you are legally and professionally obligated to do so.The first perspective is financial. In business, this is a given. Companies will always look at margins and the bottom line to ensure that profit is still being made. Making profits is singularly still the greatest sign of success for any company. The measures that a company can use to monitor financial perspectives vary. Measures could include return on investments (ROI), revenue growth year-on-year, financial ratios like inventory turnover, and many others.
The second one is objectivity. And this principle discusses influence and bias in decision making. You should not allow somebody else to influence your decisions, be it through conflict of interest, bias, undue influence, and anything really. Your professional judgment should be impartial and done because you believe that it is the right thing to do.
The third one is professional behaviour. This principle discusses the fact that accountants are bound by rules and regulations. Actions or activities that put you in a compromising position should not be undertaken, especially if it’s going to put the reputation of your profession in a negative light or discredit the profession in any way.
Professional competence and due care
The fourth one is professional competence and due care. This principle acknowledges that a certain level of knowledge and skills is expected of you, specifically if you are acting in the capacity of a professional accountant. It is understood that you would have undergone the necessary training and education required for your profession.
The fifth one is integrity. This principle focuses on being honest and straightforward about your dealings and relationships. You should not put yourself in a position where you can be associated with false or misleading statements. This includes misleading by omission or withholding information.
So those are the 5 principles that bind any CIMA accountant. Other professional bodies also have their own code of ethics and it normally goes along the same lines, and protects against the same things.
What to do if you encounter an ethical scenario in a CIMA case study exam?
It is very likely that you will be presented with a scenario where an ethical dilemma needs to be resolved. An ethics question is staple in CIMA case studies.
What is important to remember is that initially you do need to verify that there has been a breach in the code of ethics. Once you’ve determined which principle is being breached, you then proceed to offer resolutions. The resolutions that you offer will typically involve a short term and a long term resolution. The reason for this is that when there is an unethical situation happening or unfolding, you do need to address it immediately before it blows out of proportion. So the short term resolution will normally stop the unethical situation from going any further. The long term solution would be to ensure that the unethical situation does not happen again.
So in a practical less life-threatening example of the trolley problem, this would be that the trolley is on the track and it’s coming down the track and it’s going to cause an accident. The short term solution is to stop the trolley before it hits anything or anybody. So, yes, maybe a little difficult especially if the brakes are not working. The long term solution for that would be to put a process of either checking that the brakes on the trolley is working and functional everytime the trolley is used, or a routine inspection is established that the tracks are cleared of people and stuff, to ensure that an accident is avoided when the trolley comes past.
So that is the end of our episode. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you did, please do not forget to hit subscribe or follow to catch the next episode. As always, thank you for listening to Accounting Makes Cents. I am your host, MJ the tutor. If you want to learn more tips and advice, you can visit the website at www.mjthetutor.com. Or if you want to connect through social media, I am available on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter under the name mjthetutor. I hope to see you again next time. Ciao for now.
Show notes simplified
In this episode, MJ the tutor discusses the Trolley Problem, where the inspiration came from, and how this can connect to the CIMA Code of Ethics. She also describes a practical application of how to deal with an unethical scenario based on a simple not-so-life-threatening variation of the Trolley Problem.
Resources and links from this episode:
The Good Place – The Trolley Problem on Youtube – https://youtu.be/lDnO4nDA3kM
“Ding Ding Small Bell” (https://freesound.org/s/173932/) by JohnsonBrandEditing (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1RImxnsbfngagfXd_GWCDQ) licensed under CC0 Licence.