Temptation is a powerful adversary! On a recent trip to India, temptation with its piercing eyes stared at me several times. One time I lost to its enticement, another time I didn’t. Here’s my story. 

Very seldom when I travel alone for business do I ever buy anything to bring back home. And when I do, the value never exceeds the allowable Canada Customs limit. Being away for more than a week, my limit on this trip was $750. Before I left home I was asked to bring back a few specially made Indian scarves called Pashminas. I was to buy three, one each for my mother, wife and daughter. The request was simple enough, one would think. But for a man, picking out scarves for women halfway across the world, in a busy market in New Delhi, was a formidable task. Not knowing if the pattern and colour would be acceptable, I purchased a fourth, just in case. “Just in case” was really my personal risk management strategy. The value of the four scarves was less than $400 (I still overspent, but then didn’t want to be found guilty of buying cheap products). So not only did I feel comfortable that these three women would like at least three out of the four scarves, I was happy that I was well below Custom’s limit for declaration. 

But then the first temptation occurred. I purchased the scarves at a store called “Royal Clothiers.” The sales staff sized me up pretty quickly and concluded I was a prime candidate to buy a “customized, tailor made suit”. So the sales pitch and bargaining began. Various materials were laid on the counter with prices that made the temptation to buy unbearable. But I threw out a response; a defensive tactic that I was sure would cause me to lessen temptation’s influence. It was 5:30pm and I was leaving later that night to return home. There certainly would not be enough time to measure, cut, fit and deliver a new suit to me. But I lost the battle. They would take the measurements now, be at my hotel by 9:30pm for a fitting (I was leaving at 11:00pm for the airport), and ship my suit to Canada prepaid. So for $410 I yielded to temptation’s forcible grip. They measured me, did show up at my hotel at 9:30pm for a fitting, and I must say I was wowed, since there were no adjustments to be made - a perfect fit. I was now the owner of a tailor made suit named “Cavali” (I believe it’s a variation of “Canali” at Harry Rosen). My only hope now is that the suit actually is shipped and when I do wear it no one knows how much I paid for it! 

Sitting in my seat on the Air Canada flight to Toronto from Frankfurt, after flying for eight hours from New Delhi and waiting in an airport for four hours for a connecting flight, it was time to complete the Canada Customs declaration card. The start of temptation’s second attempt began. During the flight from New Delhi, I hadn’t given this any thought. I dutifully provided all the personal information requested. But then the investigative questions were presented to me. The first few were easy: I wasn’t bringing back any food, or firearms; hadn’t visited a farm. But “Did I purchase goods that exceeded my travel limit? Did I purchase goods that were not accompanying me but would be shipped later? Yes or no?” 

Now how many of us have faced those questions before? And how many of us said yes or no, knowing the possible consequences to each answer. If I said yes, I’d not be able to exit the building quickly but they would send me to another room, search all my baggage, ask me a number of frustrating questions, make me complete more paperwork and then charge me extra duty on the amount over the allowable limit. After being in the air for 18 hours, sitting in airports for seven hours, I just wanted to get out of there, go home, have a shower and go to bed. The temptation to say no to each of these questions and record an amount lower than $750 was very strong. What would be the chances of Canada Customs knowing the difference? In addition, nobody records the real amount anyway. Everyone wants to beat the system. Everybody does it, don’t they? 

But if I said no, I might get caught. My transactions were on a credit card, so the purchases could easily be traced. Plus, these customs officers are trained to ask the right questions, observe body language and identify the wrongdoers. If I was caught, the headlines might read “President and CEO of CMA Ontario caught lying on his declarations at Customs!” How irresponsible it would be of me to place the reputation of CMA Ontario at risk by such a worthless temptation. 

What should I do? Really there is only one answer to that question. My professional position really had nothing to do with it. The answer was really governed by my personal values and responsibility. Was saving $60 worth the compromise? Was saving another 10 minutes at Customs worth the reputational risk? My personal behaviour cannot be separated though from my responsibility as a CMA. In everything I do, I must recognize my responsibility to myself and to others and the organization(s) I represent. 

At the end of our days on Earth, all we have to leave behind is a reputation. A reputation is used to positively or negatively influence the lives of family, friends and business colleagues. 

Reputational risk is both a corporate and personal matter. Is there anything we are doing that would place at risk the reputation of the firms we work for? Are we risking the value of our CMA designation with behaviours that not only might void the CMA Code of Conduct or Ethics, but professionally is unacceptable? Are we acting and behaving as true professional accountants in everything we do? 

In the end, I did answer yes to both of those probing questions at Customs. I wrote in the correct amount of the purchases I made. I was queried by the Customs officer, who was from India, and we had a good laugh at my story. She was obliged to report my purchases, but was hopeful the small variance would be ignored. I was directed to the inside room where I had to meet another Customs officer. He too was from India, and understood the background of my transactions. He did not search my luggage. He did not charge me extra duty. The whole matter didn’t cost me any extra money and not more than five extra minutes of my time was spent there. In fact, when I exited the airport, I stood on the curb waiting to be picked up for more than 10 minutes since my wife was late arriving! 

No matter what, whether the temptation is big or small, compromising our professional and personal values is simply not worth the reputational risk to our firms, our families, our friends and us! 

Did you know that of all the western industrialized countries, Canada has the highest rate of fraud! 

The temptation to compromise is great! But so is the price! Just don’t do it! You are worth more!