Historically organisations have looked to their Finance teams to provide a complete and accurate, one version of the truth, upon which they can base their business decisions. Finance and finance professionals have earned their right to hold a mirror up to the business and challenge it’s performance because of our high levels of perceived integrity.
Integrity is an important fundamental element of the finance profession. Integrity requires us to be honest, candid and forthright with our businesses’ and clients’ financial information. Some of the values underpinning this integrity are:
For those finance professionals that are also chartered & certified accountants we agree to follow a code of ethics and conduct to demonstrate we agree to act in a consistent manner and ensure we review our behaviour in line with some commonly accepted principles.
Finance professionals must remain free from conflicts of interest and other questionable business relationships & practices (i.e. having audit firms also review their own work as consultants) otherwise our ability to provide an honest opinion about a business’s financial information is threatened.
We restrict ourselves from using such confidential information for personal gain or advantage and whilst being a principles based profession we avoid the ever present intentional opportunity to deceive and manipulate financial information.
Due Care & Accuracy
Due care requires us to exercise competence, diligence and a proper understanding of financial information based on our continuous professional education and experience.
So given Integrity is so fundamental to what we do and the value we offer to our business how can other departments claim to have the same levels of integrity as we do?
To answer this question maybe it’s best to first ask what does integrity mean? Well the word can be traced back to the Latin, integer, which meant intact. The irony is not lost on the fact that an integer is a number and what we do as finance professionals is make sure the numbers are intact. But in general terms
Integrity actually means wholeness
And to know if a company, client, department, or someone is acting with integrity is akin to asking whether they are being whole, that is, are they being true to their values. So if someone has a set of values and they’re different to ours in Finance but they’re acting in accordance with their values then we can’t say they’re out of integrity but what you might say is that their integrity is different to ours.
There’s a good phrase to remember:
“No matter how thing you slice it there’s always too sides.” BARUCH SPINOZA, DUTCH PHILOSOPHER.
Because we must remind ourselves that our own beliefs in what’s right: consistency, objectivity, independence, due care may be inaccurate for other teams even though we may believe them to be true. And if we did this that would in fact put us out of the integrity we regard so highly.
So to keep our own integrity we’ve a responsibility to get out from behind our desks, keep an open mind, understand the values of our businesses, clients, other departments, and identify those values in others that are more empowering and help them towards delivering to those values. This might range from helping:
- the marketing team meet their value of customer intimacy by applying our values of accuracy and objectivity to help them deconstruct their customer data into net retention rates; or
- engineering’s quest for product leadership by controlling their expenditure and independently certify that they’re progressing relative to expectations on new product development deadlines; or
- IT in developing a business case around a new BI platform to enhance their operational excellence agenda that objectively reflects a realistic return on investment for the business.
So we shouldn’t be concerned about the abuse of the word integrity that we prize so much in finance, everyone has their own version of integrity and values that underpin it. It’s actually our role to understand other departments and teams better so we can help them be more aligned to their values.
And that’s why we bring on guest mentors to our Strength in the Numbers Show, to share with you their stories on how they’re operating with integrity and putting these into practice and helping their businesses, clients, other departments move nearer their values, i.e. become more whole and have integrity.
So how do you understand Integrity and what it means for Finance professionals? Or what steps would you take yourself to help other teams have more of the Integrity they value?
The author Andrew Codd is the producer of the Strength in the Numbers Podcast which interviews real finance practitioners to break down their hard won lessons and deconstruct their practical methods that work on the job and which you won’t typically find in textbooks or exams so that we create more influential finance professionals worldwide who solve meaningful problems for their organisations and in return have fun, rewarding and successful careers in finance.