The issues regarding ethics for an auditor are always a concern. All users of a company’s financial statements, whether they are investors, creditors, or members of the general public, rely on the auditor to assure the veracity of those statements.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) provide guidance to auditors regarding independence and professional obligations. For example, it would be prohibitive for an auditor to own shares in a company for which he or she is performing an audit. Also, the preparation of financial statements for a company in which he or she has a financial interest (as an owner, lender, or investor) would also breach the requirement of auditing independence.
Charging a reasonable fee for auditing or performing additional tasks does not constitute a breach of ethics. All professionals, accountants and auditors included, must be expected to collect payment for their services. The auditor may also perform other duties for the client such as tax return preparation, but this work should be reviewed by a partner or supervisor of the auditor who has no involvement with the audit. On the other hand, accepting monies for performing illegal or unethical acts (such as special fees to alter financial statements), or receiving bribes, would constitute an absolute breach of independence, GAAS, and GAAP.
Failure to uphold these standards becomes a legal as well as professional problem for the auditor. The auditor’s ethics may be challenged by a client during an audit by denying access to records, making inappropriate offers of payment in exchange for falsified findings, or by other forms of interference. An auditor’s ethics may also be challenged following the audit by means of litigation.