As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes more mainstream, environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are a key part of ensuring responsible adoption

While potentially offering tremendous benefit, the broad applicability of AI across society must be handled carefully and professional accountants have a key role to play.

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) reveal in a new report the pressing need for the accountancy profession to make the necessary connections between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its relationship to environmental, social and governance (ESG) dimensions.

Polling over 5,700 respondents across 21 countries and geographies, the research reveals a cautious tone, with fewer than half (43%) believing that the impact of AI on their rights as an individual is positive – such as safety and personal security, and levels of fairness, choice and transparency.

ACCA and CA ANZ say in Ethics for sustainable AI adoption: Connecting AI and ESG that professional accountants, with their explicit and long-standing commitment to ethical practices, are well placed to guide organisations along a responsible path for AI adoption.

This presents a wake-up call for the accountancy profession to lead the way and become the super connectors needed to ensure an ethical approach. Their management of the transition to mass usage of AI in an ethical, responsible manner is essential if sustainable long-term value is to be secured from it.

The report’s nine recommendations include the need to set tone at the top on AI adoption by prioritising an approach that is consistent with organisational values such as diversity and inclusion in considering the impact of AI on under-represented groups, or fairness when it comes to recruitment or surveillance of employees; and transparency such as appropriately disclosing AI use to customers.

Another recommendation for the profession is to challenge greenwashing and seek insights from AI tools to help with professional scepticism in examining whether the organisation's claims about sustainability, such as on achieving net zero targets, are matched by its performance. Suspect claims need to be challenged.

Helen Brand, chief executive of ACCA says: ‘AI adoption must consider the needs of all, especially the under-represented and vulnerable in society. That’s why one of our recommendations is to ensure the profession exercises its professional judgement, because AI may create previously unseen situations. We recommend that professional accountants need to avoid over-reliance on simplistic checklist-based approaches which don’t give the full picture or leave space for unintended consequences.’

Ainslie van Onselen, chief executive of CA ANZ adds: ‘Our report found that in order to ethically and sustainably adopt AI, organisations need effective governance mechanisms. This starts with setting the right tone and culture at the top and covers a range of areas from oversight and delivery procedures, to regulation and data governance. AI is a strategic endeavour that should be spearheaded by leaders who know and execute on the difference between what we have a right to do and what is the right thing to do. It’s important to build knowledge and skills at the intersection of AI, ethics and sustainable development. This aligns well to the accountancy profession which can play a key role in driving responsible adoption.’

Key findings from the research amongst accountancy and finance professionals show that:

  • 66% believe that their leaders prioritise ethics as highly as profits.
  • 64% believe that the impact of AI on overall standard of living in society is positive, but only half that proportion (32%) consider its impact on levels of inequality to be positive. On the latter with 28% recording negative impact, the net positive balance was just 4%.
  • Three in four report being effective / very effective at managing confidentiality, and two in three at managing data quality.
  • Just over half (51%) believe that the impact of AI on their ability to live according to their values is positive.31% are aware of AI use within their industry. Fewer than half (48%) have a basic understanding of how an AI algorithm works.

The global accountancy profession is bound by the Code of Ethics (the ‘Code’) and its five fundamental principles as set out by the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA). These are integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour

Ethics for sustainable AI adoption: Connecting AI and ESG can be downloaded here: https://www.accaglobal.com/gb/en/professional-insights/technology/ai_ethics.html

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For media enquiries, contact:
Priya Kumar
E: priya.kumar@charteredaccountantsanz.com
M: +61 4 24 491 584
charteredaccountantsanz.com/

Helen Thompson
E: helen.thompson@accaglobal.com
M: +44 (0)7725 498 654
Twitter @ACCANews
accaglobal.com

About ACCA: ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global professional body for professional accountants.

We’re a thriving global community of 233,000 members and 536,000 future members based in 178 countries and regions, who work across a wide range of sectors and industries. We uphold the highest professional and ethical values.

We offer everyone everywhere the opportunity to experience a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. Our qualifications and learning opportunities develop strategic business leaders, forward-thinking professionals with the financial, business and digital expertise essential for the creation of sustainable organisations and flourishing societies.

Since 1904, being a force for public good has been embedded in our purpose. We believe that accountancy is a cornerstone profession of society and is vital helping economies, organisations and individuals to grow and prosper. It does this by creating robust trusted financial and business management, combating corruption, ensuring organisations are managed ethically, driving sustainability, and providing rewarding career opportunities.

And through our cutting-edge research, we lead the profession by answering today’s questions and preparing for the future. We’re a not-for-profit organisation. Find out more at accaglobal.com

About CA ANZ: Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) represents more than 128,000 financial professionals, supporting them to make a difference to the businesses, organisations and communities in which they work and live. Chartered Accountants are known as Difference Makers. The depth and breadth of their expertise helps them to see the big picture and chart the best course of action. Find out more: https://www.charteredaccountantsanz.com/about-us

"AI adoption must consider the needs of all, especially the under-represented and vulnerable in society. That’s why one of our recommendations is to ensure the profession exercises its professional judgement, because AI may create previously unseen situations. "

Helen Brand OBE, chief executive - ACCA

"Our report found that in order to ethically and sustainably adopt AI, organisations need effective governance mechanisms. This starts with setting the right tone and culture at the top and covers a range of areas from oversight and delivery procedures, to regulation and data governance. AI is a strategic endeavour that should be spearheaded by leaders who know and execute on the difference between what we have a right to do and what is the right thing to do. "

Ainslie van Onselen, chief executive - CA ANZ