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What professional duties do accountants owe?

On Behalf of | Jul 15, 2020 | Business Litigation

A certified public accountant may perform many services for you, such as personal financial planning, wealth management, investment advisory and tax planning. An accountant can also assist with audits and attestation.

According to the CPA Journal, accountants owe a professional duty not only to their clients but to the public. Their Code of Professional Conduct requires that they always show due professional care. Depending on their relationship with the client, they may also owe a fiduciary duty.

Due professional care

Accountants commit themselves to a consistent standard of professionalism, which involves acting with good faith and integrity. They must not claim a higher degree of competence than they actually possess. Though not expected to be completely free from error in their work, they must be accountable for bad faith or negligence. Another significant part of an accountant’s due professional care, one that takes precedence over almost every other consideration, is to serve the public interest.

Fiduciary duty

If someone owes you a fiduciary duty, it means that he or she must act in your interests and show you undivided loyalty. An accountant may owe you a fiduciary duty under certain circumstances, such as when he or she is managing your money or property on your behalf.

However, an accountant’s due professional care takes precedence over his or her fiduciary duty. In other words, your accountant shows concern for your interest only as long as it does not conflict with his or her responsibility to the public. If serving your interest would violate the public trust, your accountant has a responsibility to uphold the latter.

This can become an issue if you hire an accountant to handle an audit for you. An accountant’s due professional care to honor the public trust requires him or her to act independently, without consideration for your interests.