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Ethics Cases

CT1.9 Rules governing the investment practices of individual certified public accountants prohibit them from investing in the stock of a company that their firm audits. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became concerned that some accountants were violating this rule. In response to an SEC investigation, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) fired 10 people and spent $25 million educating employees about the investment rules and installing an investment tracking system.


Answer the following questions.

a. Why do you think rules exist that restrict auditors from investing in companies that are audited by their firms?

b. Some accountants argue that they should be allowed to invest in a company’s stock as long as they themselves aren’t involved in working on the company’s audit or consulting. What do you think of this idea?

c. Today, a very high percentage of publicly traded companies are audited by only four very large public accounting firms. These firms also do a high percentage of the consulting work that is done for publicly traded companies. How does this fact complicate the decision regarding whether CPAs should be allowed to invest in companies audited by their firm?

d. Suppose you were a CPA and you had invested in IBM when IBM was not one of your firm’s clients. Two years later, after IBM’s stock price had fallen considerably, your firm won the IBM audit contract. You will be involved in working with the IBM audit. You know that your firm’s rules require that you sell your shares immediately. If you do sell immediately, you will sustain a large loss. Do you think this is fair? What would you do?

e. Why do you think PwC took such extreme steps in response to the SEC investigation?

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