September 28, 2021

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.

DigitalCFO Newsroom | 24 August 2021

In 2019, the IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority) released a world’s leading AI governance model, which provides guidance on responsible and ethical implementation of AI for all organisations. A second edition was issued in January 2020, and includes a Self-Assessment Guide

Inspired by this initiative and in the same vein, 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 ethics, including the environmental, social and governance (ESG) dimensions.

Polling over 5,700 respondents, including panellists in Singapore, the research reveals a global 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, levels of fairness, levels of choice, levels of transparency. In Singapore, 42% of respondents believe this to be the case, but 74% believe AI has a positive impact on the overall standard of living in society.

Key findings from the research amongst Singapore ACCA accountancy and finance professionals shows that:

  • 55% believe that their leaders prioritise ethics as highly as profits – compared with 66% globally. 
  • 45% have a basic understanding of what an algorithm is and 30% say their organisation has implemented an ethical framework for AI use.
  • 64% say their organisation is effective in managing data quality.

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.

Joseph Alfred, Head of Policy – Singapore Australia, New Zealand & Oceania, ACCA says: ‘It is timely for ACCA to develop the government’s insights further, together with the feedback received globally, for professional accountants and the accountancy profession in Singapore. The report presents a wake-up call for the profession to lead the way and become the super connectors needed to ensure an ethical approach in the implementation of AI. 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 ACCA Model Framework’s unique contribution to the global discourse on AI ethics lies in translating ethical principles into practical recommendations that organisations could readily adopt to deploy AI responsibly.”

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. 

Speaking of the global picture, 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.’

Also commenting on the global findings, 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.’

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/sg/en/professional-insights/technology/ai_ethics.html