The ethics of accountability

25 February 2018

Two years ago, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority introduced new rules for senior managers, in an attempt to strengthen accountability in the sector. These are known as the Senior Managers Regime – see a detailed account on our Corporate Responsibility Network’s website, at They were introduced in March 2016 and slowly expanded to include non-executives and other employees across the sector.

Several questions to be debated here. First, the above assumes a direct correlation between individual and collective accountability. Indeed, the very purpose of introducing the new rules is to “strengthen accountability” (in the words of the FCA) and “support a change in culture at firms” (Bank of England), one that is focused on individual accountability.

Second, what is the impact on responsibility? As we know, the relationship between accountability and responsibility is far from linear – or indeed circular. It takes more than increased scrutiny to make someone (or a collective) a responsible agent.

Third, the very notion of accountability (and its counterpart, liability) signals a legal perspective. Again, we are confronted with a tacit assumption here – that of the correlation (even juxtaposition) of law and morality. But as we know from MacIntyre and others, it has been centuries since morality became distinct from both the theological and the legal good. So why should we assume that accountability can bridge the gap between these, and ensure a better corporate culture?