The Institute of Management Accountants is putting more emphasis on the need for CFOs to build a greater sense of trust and ethics in their organizations.

IMA president and CEO Jeff Thomson recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from a group called Trust Across America-Trust Around the World. He believes CFOs should instill a culture of trust and ethical excellence in their organizations.

“Trust is perhaps an overused term, but it does have real meaning,” he said. “At the end of the day having a culture of trust and core values leads to great outcomes, the ability to innovate and experiment and take risks and grow and develop great services.”

He thinks that having a culture of trust in an organization will encourage employees to bring forward innovative ideas.

“The question is how you build trust, innovation and freedom?” said Thomson. “How do you make those real rather than just trite? Yeah, we’re all trustworthy, we’re all innovative, we’re all wonderful. Actions speak louder than words. You need specific actions to make trust and innovation real to achieve great outcomes for organizations and society.”

Thomson argues that accountants represent a profession that engenders trust. “Ethics is at the foundation of everything we do,” he said. “It absolutely should be part of the corporate culture and of professional associations like ours.”

Thomson has been giving speeches abroad in Saudi Arabia and China, talking to IMA chapters and corporate groups about the ethical role of the CFO.

“I think it’s wonderful that over the last two decades the CFO team has been asked to do more in the area of value creation—new products, new services, new markets—but the CFO and the CFO team must never lose sight of its roots,” he said. “I was a CFO at AT&T, a business partner, a trusted business advisor, and you can get caught up in growth for the sake of growth, growing at any cost as opposed to growing with confidence and integrity. While the value creation part of the CFO’s growing responsibility is exciting, it could also be a little addicting.”

He believes the CFO needs to be the conscience of the organization. “If we get too diluted and addicted by working with operations and growing the business, and all of the sexy and exciting stuff, we cannot lose our way as stewards for preservation and safeguarding of assets,” said Thomson. “That’s what we are, first and foremost, sworn and obligated to do, so we need to remind ourselves of that and put controls in place and values in place, and consequences for positive actions and for not so positive actions.”