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TPB forces 1,300 PwC staff back to ethics school

Regulation

Employees are required to complete modules on their ethical obligations, conflicts of interest, confidentiality and tax confidential consultations.

By Christine Chen and Philip King 9 minute read

PwC has sent more than 1,300 tax staff back to ethics school to comply with a TPB order last November after the sharing of confidential Treasury plans by former international tax boss Peter Collins.

The TPB also ordered PwC to set up a firm-wide confidentiality agreement register and ban client-facing staff from involvement in confidential tax consultations with the public sector.

The ethics training module, developed by PwC, centred on the Tax Agent Services Act (TASA) Code of Conduct.

It outlined the Code of Conduct’s principles of honesty, integrity, independence, confidentiality and competence–repeating material that accountants must complete as part of requirements to become a registered tax agent.

The module also stressed that a PwC partner must be a “fit and proper person” and staff were required to understand basic ethical issues such as how to manage conflicts of interests and confidential information. 

“The confidential information may be relevant to the commercial or strategic interests of one or more of our clients but still may not be disclosed to the client and, in many cases, cannot be disclosed even to fellow colleagues,” said the module.

Knowledge checks went directly to the breach of confidentiality that sparked the tax scandal with questions such as:

“Which of the following is an example of a tax confidential consultation?’

“Select the correct answer, then click confirm.

“a. A PwC Director has been asked to participate in a technical working group of

CAANZ. The minutes of the working group are published on the CAANZ website

after each meeting.

“b. A PwC Partner has been asked by Treasury to make recommendations for them

to consider in regards to a proposed tax reform. This will be undertaken on a pro

bono basis and the PwC partner has been asked to sign a confidentiality

agreement.

“c. A PwC Partner has had an informal phone conversation with the ATO regarding

a particular tax technical issue affecting a number of clients. The Partner does

not mention any client names on the call.”

Another question asked: “In the event that PwC was found to breach the Tax Practitioners Board Code of Professional Conduct, what is the potential effect on PwC?’ 

Multiple-choice responses include ‘‘Reputational risk with clients, government and regulators; Termination of PwC's Tax Agent registration, Potential monetary fines and/or disciplinary sanctions/orders, with the correct answer being: ‘All of these can apply if PwC was found to breach the Code of Professional Conduct.”

PwC’s staff will have to repeat the online training from 1 July 2023 to 31 December 2023 as part of its mandated six-month training commitment.

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