An Overview of Ethics

It is important to examine the ethical considerations involved in finance. You will want to be able to differentiate between ethics and morals. Why is it essential for individuals working in the financial sector to keep organizational, professional, and personal ethical behavior front-and-center?

Defining Ethics

Ethics are the set of moral principles that guide a person's behavior.

Learning Objective

  • Define ethics and how it applies to organizations

Key Points

  • Ethical behavior is based on written and unwritten codes of principles and values held in society.
  • Ethics reflect beliefs about what is right, what is wrong, what is just, what is unjust, what is good, and what is bad in terms of human behavior.
  • Ethical principles and values serve as a guide to behavior on a personal level, within professions, and at the organizational level.


  • values

    A collection of guiding principles; what one deems to be correct, important, and desirable in life, especially regarding personal conduct.

  • behavior

    The way a living creature acts.

  • ethics

    The study of principles relating to right and wrong conduct.

Ethics are the set of moral principles that guide a person's behavior. These morals are shaped by social norms, cultural practices, and religious influences. Ethics reflect beliefs about what is right, what is wrong, what is just, what is unjust, what is good, and what is bad in terms of human behavior. They serve as a compass to direct how people should behave toward each other, understand and fulfill their obligations to society, and live their lives.

While ethical beliefs are held by individuals, they can also be reflected in the values, practices, and policies that shape the choices made by decision-makers on behalf of their organizations. The phrases business ethics and corporate ethics are often used to describe the application of ethical values to business activities. Ethics applies to all aspects of conduct and is relevant to the actions of individuals, groups, and organizations.

In addition to individual ethics and corporate ethics, there are professional ethics. Professionals such as managers, lawyers, and accountants are individuals who exercise specialized knowledge and skills when providing services to customers or to the public. By virtue of their profession, they have obligations to those they serve. For example, lawyers must hold client conversations confidential and accountants must display the highest levels of honesty and integrity in their record-keeping and financial analysis. Professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association, and licensing authorities, such as state governments, set and enforce ethical standards.



The concept of corporate social responsibility emphasizes ethical behavior in that it requires organizations to understand, identify, and eliminate unethical economic, environmental, and social behaviors.

Source: Boundless
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