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Profession versus Professionalism

I was trying to analyze the definition of words Profession, Professional Body and Professionalism on (These words are interchangeable used when the Accountants discuss among themselves.)

A profession is an occupation, vocation or career where specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science is applied. It is usually applied to occupations that involve prolonged academic training and a formal qualification. It is axiomatic that "professional activity involves systematic knowledge and proficiency." Professions are usually regulated by professional bodies that may set examinations of competence, act as a licensing authority for practitioners, and enforce adherence to an ethical code of practice.

A professional body or professional organization, also known as a professional association or professional society, is an organization, usually non-profit, that exists to further a particular profession, to protect both the public interest and the interests of professionals. The balance between these two may be a matter of opinion. On the one hand, professional bodies may act to protect the public by maintaining and enforcing standards of training and ethics in their profession. On the other hand, they may also act like a cartel or a labor union (trade union) for the members of the profession, though this description is commonly rejected by the body concerned.

Many professional bodies perform professional certification to indicate a person possesses qualifications in the subject area, and sometimes membership in a professional body is synonymous with certification, but not always. Sometimes membership in a professional body is required for one to be legally able to practice the profession; see licensure.

Oxford Dictionary: the competence or skill expected of a professional.
Graham Ward in IFAC website: Professionalism, is about individual modes of behaviour that command respect and build trust. It is about excellence in service as measured by recognised standards.It is about delivering services or working to standards that meet the needs of and are expected by our clients.

Such behaviours are indeed a necessary part of belonging to a profession but almost any trade could be described as professional in these terms!

As any of us here knows, what separates the professionalism of members of a professional body from the behaviours of other types of so-named professionals, is the requirement to continually reinforce and demonstrate our professionalism, not merely assert it through a one-off qualification. And it is our membership of a professional body – one which embodies the distinguishing features I have defined – that confers on us the obligation to abide by professional standards and regulation.

It is therefore no longer enough for professions to say to the public ‘you must trust me’, today we must earn that trust and demonstrate: clearly, openly and often, why that trust should be given.

Of the above three words, I had to search a lot on the word "Professionalism" to find a true meaning to suit accountancy profession. Members of accountancy profession will be normally be expected to take actions that contribute to the public interest.

The Principle of Professional Conduct on AICPA, US website summarizes Professionalism in a precise manner.
Section 51: These Principles of the Code of Professional Conduct of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants express the profession's recognition of its responsibilities to the public, to clients, and to colleagues. They guide members in the performance of their professional responsibilities and express the basic tenets of ethical and professional conduct. The Principles call for an unswerving commitment to honorable behavior, even at the sacrifice of personal advantage.
Section 52: In carrying out their responsibilities as professionals, members should
exercise sensitive professional and moral judgments in all their activities.
Section 53: Members should accept the obligation to act in a way that will serve the public interest, honor the public trust, and demonstrate commitment to professionalism.
Section 54: To maintain and broaden public confidence, members should perform
all professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity.
Section 55: A member should maintain objectivity and be free of conflicts of interest in discharging professional responsibilities. A member in public practice should be independent in fact and appearance when providing auditing and other attestation services.
Section 56: A member should observe the profession's technical and ethical standards, strive continually to improve competence and the quality of services, and discharge professional responsibility to the best of the member's ability.
Section 57: A member in public practice should observe the Principles of the Code of Professional Conduct in determining the scope and nature of services to be provided.

I would like to see your comments and views on this topic. Please feel free to comment on the blog post.

Santosh Puthran

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