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Professionalism and Professional Practice

Last updated 26/2/2024

Reproduced on this page is a paper about professionalism and ethics. I received in about 1980 as a trainee employee in the insolvency division of a firm of Chartered Accountants.

I read it again recently and was impressed by the moral code. Sadly, in 2024 the views expressed are probably regarded as old-fogeyish.





Following is a summary of some of the more important characteristics of a profession and of those who practise in it. 

1. Dedication to calling 

2. The offer of an intellectual service to the public

3. Responsibility toward the community 

4. A high standard of skill in the practice of one's calling 

5. Voluntary membership of a professional body

6. Adherence to a high standard of ethics 

7. Enforcement of ethics by disciplinary action regulated from within the profession 

8. Independence 

9. Remuneration based on fees for services rendered 

10. Training and testing future members for entrance to the profession 

11. Adequate facilities for research and post-qualification development 

These characteristics will now be dealt with in further detail. 

1.  Dedication to Calling 

Members of a true profession possess a high degree of dedication to their calling and to the people who depend upon them for the practice of that profession. The oldest professions of medicine, law and teaching were initially associated with the church and those who wished to engage in these professions first took holy orders which bound them in a real sense of mission and belief in their particular calling. Even today, the first and foremost mark of professional status is a calling in which its members can believe and to which each individual member can be dedicated. 

On a development of this theme it becomes clear that the status of a profession and its members is seriously damaged where members engage in business inconsistent with their calling. It is simply not possible to exhibit the degree of belief in and dedication to a calling where such calling engages only the limited energies of the practitioner. 

2.  The Offer of an Intellectual Service to the Public 

A professional is far more than technocrat who can perform a specific task well. He is an intellectual who can go beyond the manual or technical base to provide answers to problems which arise because of the advanced and complex society in which we live. He is creative in that he is not necessarily limited in his thinking to the thoughts of his contempories, although there is a tendency to build thereon. 

The degree of complexity of problems and the advancement of learning in many areas has led toward the development of specialisation within the professions (medicine is a good example) where, in addition to the intellectual learning which is possessed, experience assumes a very important role. 

The other mark which falls within this category is that of availability. This is a contentious issue especially as it relates to the medical profession, but it is none-the-less a strong characteristic of any profession that its members be available to the public, even at unusual (for other occupations) and inconvenient times. 

3.  Responsibility Toward the Community 

Following upon the sense of mission and the mark of availability which have been mentioned, a profession must display an affinity for and responsibility toward the community. This sense of responsibility can emerge in different ways.

One example is the provision of professional advice and advice and assistance to worthwhile public and community projects at little or no cost. There is a very real need for involvement by professional men in community projects which cannot afford to pay normal professional fees. In other words, a professional feels a responsibility toward the community as a group in addition to the normal professional dedication and responsibility shown towards individual members of the community who are the practitioner’s clients. 

Another example of professional status in this area is the extent to which the services of a profession are available to the poor and needy who cannot afford to meet normal professional charges.

4.  A High Standard of Skill in the Practice of One's Calling 

The status of a profession is almost entirely dependent upon the status of its individual members .. An important element in determining status of the individual is the degree of skill exhibited by the practitioner in the practice of his cal1ing. 

'I'his standard of skill is dependant not only upon the initial training of the individual but upon the degree of commitment to retain the skills so obtained and to keep abreast of current developments by obtaining additional skills subsequent to initial membership of the professional body. More reference will be made to these matters below.

5.  Voluntary Membership of a Professional Body 

A further mark of a profession is the desire of its members to be bound together in a common body. Membership of such a body is a personal matter and although individual members may practise together in partnership or association, membership attaches to the individuals and not to the association.

Membership of a professional body normally involves the use of distinguishing letters.

Even where a profession is subject to some degree of Government regulation (usually by Act of Parliament), it is an essential mark of a profession that administrative control and internal regulation of the profession be left in the hands of the professional body concerned.

It is important to recognise the voluntary aspect of membership of a professional body. In seeking membership, the practitioner voluntarily subjects himself to the standards of practice and conduct laid down by the professional body. This is in contrast to the normal laws of the land to which all citizens are subject, irrespective of choice. 

Developing this aspect, a further mark of a profession is the extent to which members are prepared to serve their professional body in its maintenance, in the education of its rnernbers and in the furtherance of its objectives and status within the community.

6.  Adherence to a High Standard of Ethics 

Ethics have been defined as:- 

"The science of human duty in its widest sense" and

"The basic principles of right action" .

Ethics are fundamental things which must be done or not done, whilst etiquette covers those things which should be done or not done if one has regard to the niceties of human conduct.


An important hallmark of a profession is the degree to which its members voluntarily adhere to a rigid code of ethics and a high standard of professional etiquette. These rules are normally laid down in some form of constitution or by-laws which are assumed by a member as a condition of entry to the particular profession. 

It goes without saying that if everyone possessed a high ethical sense, written statements would not be required. However the expectation by the community of an exemplary level of conduct of persons occupying positions of trust in the community, dictates that minimum standards of behaviour be codified and enforced where necessary.

7.  Enforcement of Ethics by Disciplinary Action Regulated From Within the Profession 

A further characteristic of a profession is its ability to enforce its rules of conduct by disciplinary action where this is necessary. In order to retain professional status in the eyes of the public whom it serves, a profession must have both the ability and the inclination to deal harshly with members who disregard its rules of conduct to the extent of expulsion in circumstances where this drastic action is deemed warranted.


Naturally the basis on which complaints are considered, including the provision for members so accused to be heard, are also important elements in a true profession, but the public must be able to have confidence that those members of a profession who act in a manner unworthy to their calling will be appropriately dealt with on a timely basis. 

8.  Independence 

Independence, as a characteristic of a profession has two limbs.

The first limb is the independence of the profession itself. If one profession is even partly dependant upon another it is quite certain that the status of the latter profession will be higher than the former.

The second limb is the independnnce of the individual members of the profession. This is a critical area which can have a tremendous bearing upon the standing of individual practition­ers in the community and hence upon the overall standing of their profession. Lack of personal independance can occur in a multitude of ways (some involving financial considerations but many quite unrelated to financial matters), but suffice it to say that a true professional is one who is able to exercise his skill and judgment without actual or apparent influence from any other party or without consideration of matters concerning personal involvement. 

Maintenance of a high degree of independance is part of the cost of membership of a profession. 


Aligned to,but not necessarily being embraced by independence, is confidentiality. An important mark of a professional is the confidence with which a member of the public can consult with him knowing that information disclosed will not be available to others. 


9.  Remuneration Based on Fees for Services Rendered 

A profession is distinctive in that the remuneration of its members is based on fees for services rendered. With the minor exception of the recovery of out of pocket expenses incurred on behalf of a client, a profession's fees are based entirely on personal service and do not contain items such as materials, commission, etc.

Generally speaking the basis of professional fees should be a combination of time spent and the degree of skill required to perform the work. Remuneration on any other basis does not enhance the existence or standing of a profession. 

10.  Training and Testing Future Members for Entrance to the Profession

As was stated previously, one hallmark of a profession is the high standard of skill displayed by its members. Acc­ordingly a further characteristic of a profession is the setting of a high standard of proficiency prior to the granting of membership. 

Conditions of admission vary according to the nature of the profession, but generally speaking a profession looks to both academic training and practical experience as the basis for admission. Academic qualifications are important and although some professions have moved to abandon their own examining activities in favour of Universities and Colleges of Advanced Education, they nevertheless retain control in this important area by assessment of course material and by liaison with educational bodies.

Because practical experience is such an important ingredient in the making of a professional, a further element in obtain­ing admission to membership of a professional body is the gaining of satisfactory practical experience. The Article system in Law and Accountancy was designed with this end ln view, placing upon practitioners an obligation to give practical training to prospective future members of the profession.

The existence of high standards of academic qualification and practical training as the basis for entry to a professional body, enhance the status of the profession concerned and of each individual member.

11.   Adequate Facilities for Research and Post Qualification Development 

The final characteristic of a profession that learning and skill are not static. Once again two limbs are involved.

First, there is recognition within the professional body itself, which gives rise to the provision of discussion groups, post-graduate courses of study, special sabbatical leave, seminars and congresses on recent developments, and in some cases, the compulsory attendance at continuing education courses as a condition of retention of membership.

Secondly, there is the recognition by individual rnernbers of the importance of retention and advancement of knowledge and skills to the extent that sufficient time is set aside for research and involvement in continuing education facilities set up or fostered by the professional body. Failure of individual members of a profession to voluntarily set aside time for personal development brings with it the inevitable loss of status of the member with a resultant loss of stand­ing of his profession in the eyes of the public.

A further development of this particular characteristic of a ­profession is the inclination of members of a profession to share with other members ,the knowledge acquired individually for the benefit of the community as a whole.


Having considered the basic characteristics of a profession gener­ally, it is important to relate those characteristics to the pro­fession of accountancy. This should be done through discussion on each particular characteristic considering:-

1. How well the accountancy profession meets each basic characteristic. This assessment should assist in the determination of the status of our own profession in comparison to others.

2. What is required of individual members of our pro­fession in meeting the basic criteria for advancing our own status as a professional and in advancing the status of our profession in the community.


1. The ethical rulings of the Institute (of Chartered Accountants) as these relate to Professional Conduct are set out in detail in Section B to Bl3 of the Institute's Handbook. Accordingly that which is already adequately covered in the handbook will not be repeated in detail here.

2. There is an excellent index at the commencement of Section B of the Handbook and wherever there is any doubt about a particular matter, reference to the rel­evant section is facilitated.

3. Very briefly the Ethical Rulings issued to date cover the following broad areas.

[NOTE: I have not published the rest of this section.]


[NOTE: I have not published this section.]