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Guided by Conscience: Deloitte and the Pursuit of Independence and Objectivity

Independence and objectivity are the bedrock of the audit profession. Throughout its history, Deloitte has been an industry leader in maintaining and strengthening these core principles.

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The first corporate accounts signed by “W.W. Deloitte, Accountant,” in 1849 make clear what the Great Western Railway sought when it hired him: An audit “scrutinizing, continuous and complete, conducted by persons wholly unconnected with, and independent of, directors and officers . . . required to report their opinions freely and unreservedly,” the Great Western Railway stated in a directors’ report.

Independence and objectivity have been at the heart of the audit profession since its origin. This has not kept critics from questioning the profession’s adherence to those values, particularly as management consulting practices within professional services organizations have grown, but Deloitte has always stood as a staunch defender of and a beacon for these principles.

In the depths of the Great Depression, Haskins & Sells managing partner Arthur Carter, who also served as president of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, was called to Capitol Hill to lobby for mandatory audits for public companies. US Senator Alben Barkley, who later served as vice president under President Harry Truman, was skeptical. “Who audits you?” he asked Carter.

“Our conscience,” Carter replied.

Similar concerns arose in the late 1970s, amid the growth of consulting; in the late 1980s, during the savings & loan crisis, and in the early 2000s, after the collapse of Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen. In each case, Deloitte was there to help guide the profession and constructively contribute to the regulatory response.

Deloitte was a leader in the 2007 creation of the Center for Audit Quality, a group dedicated to upholding high standards for accountants. Deloitte remains an active participant in the group, which is affiliated with the AICPA—itself co-founded by Deloitte pioneer Charles Waldo Haskins in 1887.

Deloitte continues in the tradition of Haskins and other leaders, working with peers and regulators to promote the highest standards for independence and objectivity. The Global Principles of Business Conduct are the formal expression of these standards, based on “our core belief that, at Deloitte, ethics and integrity are fundamental and not negotiable.”
 

Audit Committees - 1981
A Professional Career with Haskins and Sells 1960

Free, fair, and full reports of industrial organizations should be founded upon a thorough, independent audit of accounts by disinterested certified public accountants, whose signed certificates, to be published with the report, are a more nearly perfect guarantee of reliability than any other yet to be discovered.

- Article in Commerce, Accounts & Finance, believed to have been written by Charles Waldo Haskins, founder, Haskins & Sells, 1901

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