Redwood City, Calif. (Jan. 26, 2004) -- While the majority of people polled expect accountants to catch unethical corporate financial behavior, most of them don’t think firms would tattle on clients who break the law, according to a survey by professional liability insurance provider Camico Mutual Insurance Co.

When asked if they thought that a professional accounting firm would look the other way if a client violated the law in order to maintain its relationship with the client, 62 percent of 600 people polled said “Yes.” When asked if accountants have become less ethical, more ethical, or stayed the same in the past five years, 49 said there'd been no change, while 38 percent said less ethical, and 13 percent said more ethical.

Three out of four respondents believe accountants should police the financial reporting that publicly held companies make to investors, while 71 percent expect an accountant to uncover fraud if the accountant is hired by a company to review financial statements, but isn’t retained to perform an audit, Camico reported.

Overall, 85 percent agreed that, “While some accountants have done bad things, the entire accounting profession should not be condemned.” Only 21 percent agreed with the statement, “I do not trust accountants,” and only 17 percent had ever had a negative experience with an accountant.

While 94 percent of respondents believe there are legal and/or ethical problems facing corporate America, when they were asked to place responsibility for those problems, chief executives headed the list (70 percent), followed by senior executives (68 percent), chief financial officers (62 percent), and inside lawyers (58 percent). Boards of directors were lower on the list (55 percent), followed by inside accountants (53 percent), external accountants (42 percent), external lawyers (40 percent), and external consultants (34 percent).

Camico, which is sponsored by state CPA societies in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee and Washington, commissioned the survey to investigate potential jurors’ attitudes toward accountants and whether those attitudes have been negatively affected by recent corporate scandals. The survey, conducted by trial consulting firm Dispute Dynamics Inc., polled 600 random people -- 100 each in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Seattle.

-- WebCPA staff

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