Ethical leadership, the CPA way

Adventurous CPAs breathe some fresh Canadian air into ethics and international standard-setting.

CPAs Brian and Laura Friedrich on the summit of Mount Caubvick on the border of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. Photo: Len Vanderstar


For CPAs Brian and Laura Friedrich, ethics and standard-setting aren’t mutually exclusive topics.

The married couple, partners in B.C.-based Friedrich & Friedrich, travel the world doing international capacity development work in the field of accounting and auditing standards, bringing their friendly, involved, Canadian sensibility with them.

On the road, Laura and Brian are often asked where they’re from. When they say Canada, the response tends to be so positive that they’ve been treated to drinks several times by strangers who aren’t even accountants.

“I think we’re really lucky to be Canadians when we’re working in an international context, because Canadian professionals have a reputation for having a lot of knowledge and bringing a lot of practical expertise to the table,” says Laura, MSc, FCPA, FCGA. “And, at the same time, we’re seen to be very collaborative.”

“Most of our work is with professional accountancy organizations, ministries of finance, and post-secondary institutions, enabling them to better train, better certify, better evaluate their members,” says Brian, MEd, LLM, C.Dir, FCPA, FCGA. “Really, to help them build better professional accountants and auditors.

“Ethics is incredibly important to the profession,” he continues, “because that’s the differentiator between a professional accountant and someone who can just call themselves an accountant. Without ethics, we don’t have the trust, we don’t have the credibility, we don’t bring the value that the public expects when they’re engaging a professional to do work.”

“It’s not always just about ‘right and wrong,’ ‘good and bad,’” adds Laura. “A lot of it comes down to education about what the specific expectations are. As CPAs, we all want to do the right thing, but when we’re under pressure and balancing duties and obligations, it’s not always obvious what that means. Codes of conduct help answer, ‘What does professionalism mean in the context of this decision that I’m currently trying to make?’”

Their work always begins with competency frameworks, says Brian. “Competency frameworks have the obvious technical side, but importantly, they also have the enabling competencies on the other side. The main components of those enabling competencies are ethics and what it means to be a professional. It’s that that’s at the centre of education and training processes, to ensure that students understand as they go through the program what’s expected of them as professionals. What does it mean to protect the public interest? What is the public interest?

“That’s really where we leverage the value of being Canadian CPAs,” he continues. “What does it mean to be Canadian and which values does that bring to the table? One of the strengths of being Canadian, I would say, is always looking at the balance between what you’re overtly hired for—which is usually fostering and enabling economic development—and, at the same time, making a difference on the social development front, where real, sustainable change happens. For us, it’s about how do we work ourselves out of a job, which sounds a bit unusual, but that’s really the sustainability aspect. It’s about transferring the knowledge that we have, both from the Canadian context and other global contexts, and enabling the national players, these other developing or transitional countries, to be able to take that role over internally.”

Brian is a member of both the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA), which sets the ethics standards for professional accountancy organizations around the world, and the Public Trust Committee (PTC), which implements international standards in Canada.

“For me, it’s about giving back to the profession,” says Brian. “I’ve been involved in the ethics space over the last 15 or so years. The more I was involved, the more I became interested in the wording and interpretation of the standards themselves—particularly what could be done to improve the wording to make it clearer, to give our members appropriate guidance and to really understand what the public expects of us as professional accountants.”