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  • The Auditing Section
    Mandatory Audit Partner Rotation, Audit Quality, and Market...6
    research summary posted May 7, 2012 by The Auditing Section, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.07 Audit Firm Rotation, 15.0 International Matters, 15.03 Audit Partner Rotation 
    Title:
    Mandatory Audit Partner Rotation, Audit Quality, and Market Perception: Evidence from Taiwan and Discussion of “Mandatory Audit Partner Rotation, Audit Quality, and Market Perception: Evidence from Taiwan”
    Practical Implications:

    The adoption of mandatory partner rotation in many countries suggests that regulators believe that the benefits of rotation outweigh the costs and thus a policy of mandatory rotation enhances audit quality. The results of this study provide initial evidence of the effects of mandatory partner rotation on audit quality. Contrary to regulators’ beliefs, the findings do not support the assumption that audit partner rotation will lead to audit quality increases. One caveat to these findings is whether the findings will generalize to other countries with different regulatory and legal regimes.

    Citation:

    Chi, W., H. Huang, Y. Liao, and H. Xie. 2009. Mandatory audit partner rotation, audit quality, and market perception: Evidence from Taiwan. Contemporary Accounting Research 26 (2): 359-391. 

    Bamber, E.M., and L.S. Bamber. 2009. Discussion of “Mandatory audit partner rotation, audit quality, and market perception: Evidence from Taiwan”. Contemporary Accounting Research 26 (2): 393-402.

    Keywords:
    audit quality; audit partner rotation
    Purpose of the Study:

    The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) reduced the period that an audit partner is allowed to serve a particular client from seven consecutive years (required by the AICPA since the 1970s) to five years. The assumption behind the mandatory rotation requirement is that rotating the audit partner will improve auditor independence and audit quality. Research on audit firm rotation in the U.S. suggests that longer audit firm tenure with a client increases audit quality.  Although, as Bamber and Bamber point out, the results of audit firm rotation may be different than audit partner rotation because the costs and benefits are quite different.  For example, in rotating audit firms, the new firm brings an entirely new audit team and a new audit methodology. In rotating an audit partner, many factors continue to be the same under the new partner (the team, the overall audit methodology, the firm’s history with the client, etc.). Due to the lack of audit partner data in the U.S., this study utilizes audit partner data from Taiwan to assess the effect of mandatory audit partner rotation on audit quality. More specifically, the authors address two primary issues:

    • The authors examine whether a sample of firms subject to mandatory rotation have higher audit quality as compared to three benchmarks: 1) a sample of firms not subject to mandatory rotation, 2) the mandatory sample in the year prior to adoption, and 3) a sample of firms with voluntary audit partner rotation.
    • The authors examine whether investors perceive higher audit quality for the firms subject to the mandatory rotation requirements relative to the three benchmark samples mentioned above.
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors use data for publicly-listed firms in Taiwan from the 2004 Taiwan Economic Journal database.  Mandatory audit partner rotation became mandatory for firms listed on the two major stock exchanges in 2004.  For the 2004 firms, some companies had partners that were required to rotate off the engagement (firms subject to mandatory rotation in that year) whereas other companies did not have partners required to rotate as they had not been on the engagement long enough yet (a non-rotation sample). 

    Findings:
    • Audit quality is not significantly different when comparing the sample of Taiwan firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 to the sample of Taiwan firms not subject to mandatory rotation in 2004.  They also find no significant difference in audit quality when comparing the sample of Taiwan firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 to the sample of Taiwan firms whose audit partner voluntarily rotated in years before 2003.  
    • The audit quality provided by new partners for Taiwan firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 is lower than the audit quality of those same Taiwan firms one year earlier, when the audit was led by the prior partner.
    • The authors find that perceived audit quality is not significantly different when comparing the sample of Taiwan firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 to the sample of Taiwan firms not subject to mandatory rotation in 2004.  They also find no difference in perceived audit quality when comparing the sample of Taiwan firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 to the sample of those same Taiwan firms one year earlier.  They find that perceived audit quality is significantly higher for firms subject to mandatory rotation in 2004 compared to firms where audit partners voluntarily rotated prior to 2003. 
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics, International Matters
    Sub-category:
    Audit Firm Rotation, Audit Partner Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    An Examination of Partner Perceptions of Partner Rotation:...1
    research summary posted October 10, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.05 Impact of SOX, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.08 Impact of SEC Rules Changes/SarbOx, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 11.04 Industry Experience 
    Title:
    An Examination of Partner Perceptions of Partner Rotation: Direct and Indirect Consequences to Audit Quality
    Practical Implications:

    The findings of this study shed light on the perceived benefits and detriments of the five versus seven year partner rotation requirements.  The results highlight the potential unintended consequences of implementing the accelerated rotation including a reduction in partner quality of life and auditor independence and audit quality. 


    For more information on this study, please contact Brian Daugherty. 
     

    Citation:

    Daugherty, B., D. Dickins, R. Hatfield, and J. Higgs.  2012.  An Examination of Partner Perceptions of Partner Rotation:  Direct and Indirect Consequences to Audit Quality. Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory 31 (1): 97-114. 

    Keywords:
    Sarbanes-Oxley; audit partner rotation; auditor independence; audit quality; quality of life.
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study examines practicing audit partner perceptions regarding the mandatory partner rotation and cooling off periods.  Specifically, the authors investigate how recently enacted and stringent rules might negatively impact auditor quality of life leading to deterioration in audit quality.  As a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), the US moved from a seven-year rotation with a two-year cooling-off period to a five-year rotation and five-year cooling-off period.  This change in standard provides the authors the opportunity to investigate the perceptions of partner that have worked under both standards.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with seven practicing audit partners.  Most of these partners were managing partners from various geographic locations.  Based on those interviews, the authors developed a model of the effects of mandatory rotation and created a field survey that was completed by 370 audit partners.  Collection of survey results occurred prior to May 2011. 

    Findings:

    The audit partners in the study believed that rotation generally improved independence which has a positive impact on audit quality.  However, partners also expressed that accelerated rotation reduced client-specific knowledge and had a negative impact on audit quality.  Partners suggested that the accelerated rotation and extended cooling-off period imposed by SOX has increased the need to relocate if the partner wishes to remain in the same industry.  As a result partners often choose to gain new industry experience and stay in the same location, rather than to relocate.  This decision maintains the partner quality of life, but possibly at the expense of industry depth and to the detriment of overall audit quality.  Partners also discussed a two to three-year new-client familiarization process, resulting in an increase in the amount of time that engagements suffer from “start-up efficacy”.  In sum, although the partners view rotation in general as a means to improve independence, they believe the accelerated rotation imposed by SOX may actually result in a reduction in independence and possibly audit quality.

    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Independence & Ethics, Standard Setting
    Sub-category:
    Impact of SEC Rules Changes/SarBox, Impact of SOX, Industry Experience
  • The Auditing Section
    The Impact of Auditor Rotation on Auditor-client Negotiation1
    research summary posted May 4, 2012 by The Auditing Section, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.04 Interactions with Client Management, 15.04 Audit Firm Rotation 
    Title:
    The Impact of Auditor Rotation on Auditor-client Negotiation
    Practical Implications:

    The study investigates how mandatory audit firm rotation may affect the process of auditor-client negotiations that produce financial statements observed by the public.  Standard setters should be cognizant of the possible implications of mandating rotation.  Mandatory rotation will likely change the auditors’ and clients’ incentives and auditors and clients will likely change their negotiation strategies.  This may result in less cooperation between auditors and clients and in fewer negotiations that end to the satisfaction of both parties (not only in the final audit year prior to rotation but also in non-final years).

    Citation:

    Wang, K. J. and B. M. Tuttle. 2009. The Impact of Auditor Rotation on Auditor-client Negotiation. Accounting, Organizations, and Society 34 (2): 222-243.

    Keywords:
    Auditor rotation, auditor independence, auditor-client negotiation
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study is motivated by a demand for research on the potential effects of requiring mandatory rotation of audit firms following the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. While some believe that mandatory audit firm rotation is the only way to ensure auditor independence, most audit firms and their clients do not believe that mandatory audit firm rotation would impact auditor behavior. This study advances this debate by investigating how mandatory rotation may affect the process of auditor-client negotiations that produce financial statements.  Auditor-client negotiation is important to auditing because it is a natural process of reconciling incentive-induced differences in financial reporting.  Below are the objectives that the authors address in their study: 

    • Investigate how mandatory audit firm rotation (hereafter, mandatory rotation) affects auditor-client negotiations.
    • Examine the process differences in auditor-client negotiation with and without mandatory rotation – examine whether these process differences lead to material changes in the financial statements.
    • Examine the negotiation strategies used by both the auditor and the client and relate those strategies to the negotiated outcomes.  
    • Examine the impact on market dynamics as a result of auditor rotation.
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collected their evidence via a laboratory negotiation experiment using an abstract setting.  The data was collected prior to 2009.  Participants were graduate business students and were randomly assigned the role of manager (i.e., client) or verifier (i.e., auditor).  Participants were paired, one manager and one verifier, and completed a negotiation task.  For half of the negotiation pairs, mandatory rotation was required after three periods and for the other half of the pairs there were no rotation requirements.  Cash incentives were used to model the “real-world” incentives of clients and auditors.  The negotiation process, auditor and verifier strategies, and outcomes were compared between these two groups.

    Findings:
    • Mandatory rotation reduces the auditor’s relative importance of maintaining a relationship with the client. 
    • Auditors are more likely to use an obliging strategy (i.e. cooperating) under no mandatory rotation, as compared to mandatory rotation.
    • Auditors are more likely to use a strategy of inaction (i.e. unwillingness to compromise) under mandatory rotation (7%) compared to no mandatory rotation (1%).
    • Managers are less likely to send contending messages under mandatory rotation (17.6%), compared to no mandatory rotation (22%).
    • Auditors are less cooperative under mandatory rotation than under no mandatory rotation.
    • The agreement rate of negotiations under mandatory rotation is significantly lower than that under no mandatory rotation.
    • When negotiations result in agreement, the asset values under mandatory rotation are significantly lower (consistent with the auditor’s preferences) than those under no mandatory rotation.
    • In summary, under mandatory rotation auditors adopt less cooperative negotiation strategies, produce results that are more in line with the auditor’s preferences than with the client’s preferences, and less negotiations end in agreement.
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics, Auditor Judgment, Engagement Management
    Sub-category:
    Audit Firm Rotation, Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind, Interactions with Client Management, Audit Firm Rotation
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  • The Auditing Section
    An Analysis of Forced Auditor Change: The Case of Former...1
    research summary posted May 7, 2012 by The Auditing Section, tagged 03.0 Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, 03.01 Auditor Qualifications, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.07 Audit Firm Rotation 
    Title:
    An Analysis of Forced Auditor Change: The Case of Former Arthur Andersen Clients
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study suggest that the auditor changes resulting from the demise of Andersen did not result in improved financial reporting quality and transparency for the former Andersen clients that parted ways with their former audit practice.  This implies that the mandatory rotation of auditors may not yield an increase in financial statement quality.  This result should be of interest to audit regulators and standard setters, as well as practitioners seeking to comment on proposed mandatory rotation regulations. 

    Additionally, the results indicate that switching costs in non-forced auditor change settings likely outweigh agency benefits of changing auditors in many cases.  This result may be of interest to shareholders, managers, and audit committees in their respective roles related to auditor selection.

    Citation:

    Blouin, J., B. M. Grein, and B. R. Rountree. 2007. An Analysis of Forced Auditor Change: The Case of Former Arthur Andersen Clients. The Accounting Review 82 (3): 621-650.

    Keywords:
    auditor selection, auditor change, mandatory auditor rotation, audit quality, earnings quality, Arthur Andersen
    Purpose of the Study:
    • To investigate the factors that contributed to firms' decisions to either retain their Andersen audit team who migrated to another audit firm, or engage a new auditor, after the collapse of Andersen.
    • To investigate the effect of forced auditor change on client firms' financial statement quality.
    • To examine the costs (switching costs and agency costs) a company faces in switching to a new auditor.
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors use a sample of 407 Andersen clients.  The authors classify companies as retaining their Andersen audit team if the audit report in the year after Andersen's collapse indicates the new auditor within a city acquired the Andersen audit practice in that same city. Companies that did not adhere to this were classified as having switched to a different auditor.  In performing this analysis, the authors examine “Switching costs” (i.e. Andersen industry expertise, auditor tenure, auditee size, auditee complexity, and discretionary accruals) and “Agency Costs” (i.e. auditee size, auditee complexity and transparency, insider ownership, leverage, presence of a blockholder, and audit committee expertise and independence.

    Findings:
    • Companies faced with greater switching costs were more likely to stay with their Andersen audit team.  (Note: Greater switching costs include aggressive accruals, a financial expert on the audit committee, and Andersen industry specialization)
    • Companies with greater agency concerns (higher monitoring costs faced by outside shareholders) were more likely to sever ties with their Andersen audit team and hire a new auditor.
    • Companies in the highest quintile of performance-matched discretionary accruals that followed Andersen curbed their accrual behavior in the year after Andersen’s collapse, while there was no change for those that did not follow Andersen.
    • Overall company governance characteristics were not associated with the decision to retain or switch.
    • Overall, the evidence suggests that switching costs likely often outweigh benefits of changing auditors, which explains why we observe infrequent auditor changes for most companies.
    • Evidence in the study suggests mandatory rotation may not be effective in improving client firms' overall financial statement quality.
    Category:
    Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Auditor Qualifications (e.g. size - industry expertise), Audit Firm Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    U.S. Audit Partner Rotations
    research summary posted June 26, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 05.03 Partner Rotation 
    Title:
    U.S. Audit Partner Rotations
    Practical Implications:

    This study helps to inform about the effects of audit partner rotations. The evidence suggests that partner rotation does add a fresh look at U.S. audit engagements. The results can also be applied to the U.S. debate over audit firm rotation. It demonstrates that firm rotation is not the only way to add a fresh look to audit engagements and that the current system of audit partner rotation already has a measurable effect.

    Citation:

    Laurion, Henry, A. Lawrence, and J. Ryans. 2017. “U.S. Audit Partner Rotations”. The Accounting Review. 92.3 (2017): 209. 

    Keywords:
    U.S. audit partner rotations; fresh look; restatements; valuation allowances and reserves; write-downs; special items
    Purpose of the Study:

    Currently, the SEC requires that lead partners rotate off an audit engagement after five years and then sit out another five years before returning to the audit engagement. The audit partner rotation requirement was put into place to add renewed professional skepticism and a fresh insight into the audit. Previous studies in the United States generally indicate that partner rotation decreases audit quality due to a loss of client-specific knowledge and expertise. This paper adds to the discussion by examining the incidence of restatements, write-downs, and special items, as well as changes in valuation allowances and reserves surrounding partner rotation.

     

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors identified audit partner rotations by using SEC comment letter correspondences for issuers who have received comment letter reviews in two consecutive years that copy different audit partners for each of those years. The information was gathered using the Audit Analytics Comment Letter database and comprised of 205 U.S. partner rotations at 189 SEC public companies from 2006 to 2014. A difference-in-differences model was used to compare the before and after results against a non-rotating firm control group. 

    Findings:

    The authors find the following:

    • There is no change in the frequency of misstatements after a partner rotation.
    • However, restatement discoveries and restatement announcements display relative increases of 5.9% and 5.1% respectively after there is a new lead partner. This suggests that the audit partner rotation requirement does in fact increase audit quality.
    • Additionally, there is some evidence of decreases in positive special items.
    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Audit Team Composition, Independence & Ethics
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Does Charismatic Client Leadership Constrain Auditor...
    research summary posted June 22, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 09.01 Audit Scope and Materiality Judgments 
    Title:
    Does Charismatic Client Leadership Constrain Auditor Objectivity?
    Practical Implications:

    The potential threat of constrained auditor objectivity due to charismatic leadership is one that has not previously been addressed before. Therefore, auditors should be proactive in making sure they are aware of this threat while working on various audit engagements. Additionally, audit firms should pay attention because it is unlikely that there are any mitigating strategies in place to combat the threat within the firm. 

    Citation:

    Svanberg, Jan, and P. Ohman. 2017. “Does Charismatic Client Leadership Constrain Auditor Objectivity?”. Behavioral Research in Accounting. 29.1 (2017): 103.

    Keywords:
    auditing; auditor objectivity; charismatic client leadership; client identification
    Purpose of the Study:

    An auditor’s objectivity can be negatively affected by various financial or social characteristics of the client. This study examines whether or not auditor objectivity is constrained by perceived charismatic leadership of management. The initial assumption is that perceived charismatic client leadership will in fact negatively affect auditor objectivity. This threat is particularly concerning because it can rapidly materialize and is unable to be addressed by auditor rotation. Previous studies have focused on the financial size of clients as an indicator of possible problematic relationships between the auditor and client. If the initial assumption in this study is correct than this will suggest that charismatic leadership plays a role in auditor objectivity along with the financial size of the firm. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The sample consists of 1,000 Swedish auditors randomly selected using a Revisorsnamnden register. There was a 19.9% response rate to a questionnaire that was sent out on September 2013. The majority of respondents were male partners or managers. The questionnaire was a cross-sectional survey where auditors were asked to recall their largest client’s leader, and then to assess the extent to which the leader is charismatic. A regression model was then used to test the hypothesis.

    Findings:

    Overall, the authors find that there is a positive relationship between constrained auditor objectivity and the extent to which the auditor perceives the client leaders as charismatic. This suggests that client identification is not necessarily the only social factor leading to constrained objectivity.     

    Additionally, the authors find the following:

    • Stronger levels of professional identification are not associated with more objective judgment.
    • Auditors for Big 4 firms are more objective when compared to auditors in smaller audit firms.
    Category:
    Auditor Judgment, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Trust and Professional Skepticism in the Relationship...
    research summary posted June 22, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 08.04 Auditors’ Professional Skepticism 
    Title:
    Trust and Professional Skepticism in the Relationship between Auditors and Clients: Overcoming the Dichotomy Myth
    Practical Implications:

    The findings from this study have direct implications for practitioners and policy makers. Current legislation efforts separate the auditor from the client and are not effective in raising the client’s perception of professional skepticism. Instead, the authors propose regulators giving auditors and clients sufficient leeway to establish identification-based trust.

    Citation:

    Aschauer, Ewald, et al. “Trust and Professional Skepticism in the Relationship between Auditors and Clients: Overcoming the Dichotomy Myth.” Behavioral Research in Accounting 29.1 (2017): 19.

    Keywords:
    auditing; trust; professional skepticism; coexistence
    Purpose of the Study:

    Professional skepticism is a key attribute for an auditor to have. Broadly, this study examines how the relationship between auditors and client managers affect professional skepticism. Specifically, if an auditors’ identification-based trust causes the client to view the auditor as having higher or lower professional skepticism. The authors in this paper define identification-based trust as interpersonal trust. Research in prior studies have reached different conclusions regarding the effects of identification-based trust on professional skepticism, so it is somewhat of a contested subject.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    There were two studies that took place. In Study 1 the authors sent emails to selected auditors, managers and partners, inviting them to be interviewed for the research project along with their clients. Both the auditors and corresponding clients were interviewed separately about the general mechanisms of their relationship. The purpose of this study was to develop a hypothesis.

    In Study 2 the authors contacted 6,500 auditors in Germany by phone encouraging them to take a survey with their clients. The final sample size was comprised of 233 auditor/client groups. The auditors and clients were sent questionnaires and the data collected from the results were analyzed through an ordinary least squares regression.

     

    Findings:

    The overall finding of this study is that auditors’ identification-based trust in their clients is positively related to the clients’ perceptions of the auditors’ professional skepticism.

    The authors find:

    • Auditors may feel uncomfortable about this identification-based trust and compensate by increasing their professional skepticism.
    • Identification-based trust improves the information exchange between auditor and client which leads to a higher perception of professional skepticism by the client.
    • Identification-based trust reduces opportunism in the auditing process and allows for there to be more efficiency in areas such as negotiation.
    Category:
    Auditing Procedures - Nature - Timing and Extent, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Auditors’ Professional Skepticism
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Honor Among Thieves: Open Internal Reporting and Managerial...
    research summary posted February 20, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 14.0 Corporate Matters 
    Title:
    Honor Among Thieves: Open Internal Reporting and Managerial Collusion
    Practical Implications:

    This study provides evidence that reporting openness can have the unintended effect of increasing collusion.  Recognizing that reporting openness can have a downside can help executives make more informed decisions when considering how much organizational openness they want. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that, despite increasing trust and reciprocity among managers, open internal reporting can potentially result in more managerial collusion because openness fosters greater “honor among thieves.”

    Citation:

    Evans III, J. H., D. V. Moser, A. H. Newman, and B. R. Stikeleather. 2016. Honor Among Thieves: Open Internal Reporting and Managerial Collusion. Contemporary Accounting Research 33 (4): 1375-1402.

    Purpose of the Study:

    The authors examine whether open internal reporting, in which a manager observes another manager’s communications with senior executives, increases collusion between the managers. Open internal reporting environments certainly have benefits, but they can also expose firms to collusion, which is a significant control problem for firms. For this reason, documenting how open internal reporting affects managers’ collusion is important because the related insight can help top executives decide how much internal reporting openness they want in their firm. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors use an experiment to examine the effect of reporting openness of misreporting and collusion because an experiment allows them to control the managers’ economic incentives and also to isolate the effect of social norms on managers’ behavior.           

    Findings:
    • The authors find that agreements to collude lead to more misreporting in the open than in the closed reporting condition.
    • The authors find that individual managers were more than twice as likely to honor their agreements to misreport in the open condition, and pairs of managers colluded successfully nearly five times as often in the open condition.
    • The authors find that open internal reporting facilitated managers’ collusion, which significantly lowered firm welfare in the open reporting condition. 
    Category:
    Corporate Matters, Independence & Ethics
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Effects of Incentive Scheme and Working Relationship on...
    research summary posted January 12, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.06 Reporting Ethics Breaches – Self & Others, 14.0 Corporate Matters, 14.02 Corporate Whistle Blowers 
    Title:
    Effects of Incentive Scheme and Working Relationship on Whistle-Blowing in an Audit Setting
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study suggest that, while both types of incentive schemes are effective in promoting whistle-blowing behavior in the absence of close working relationships, the effectiveness of a rewarding incentive scheme is more likely to be undermined by the presence of close working relationships than a penalizing incentive scheme. 

    Citation:

    Boo, E., T. B. Ng, and P. G. Shankar. 2016. Effects of Incentive Scheme and Working Relationship on Whistle-Blowing in an Audit Setting. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 35 (4): 23 – 38. 

    Keywords:
    reward and penalty, incentive scheme, working relationship, and whistle-blowing.
    Purpose of the Study:

    Prior research shows that providing an incentive, either in the form of a reward or a penalty, can help promote whistle-blowing behavior. Other studies show that close relationships between employees can exert a negative impact on whistle-blowing behavior. An important yet unanswered question is whether and to what extent the effectiveness of different types of incentive schemes to promote whistle-blowing could be undermined by the presence of close working relationships likely to be forged among team members in audit firms and other organizations. Furthermore, the current incentive system in the auditing profession is dominated by penalties; however, many are calling for a shift toward incorporating more ways to reward auditors rather than penalize them, suggesting the importance of understanding the implications of alternative incentive systems. Also, there has not been much research done on the effectiveness of punitive schemes, despite their prevalence in the profession. Finally, whistle-blowing has been found to be a significant means by which frauds and other forms of misconduct are detected, which suggests the crucial importance of understanding factors that could enhance or undermine its effectiveness. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors conduct an experiment involving 90 auditors from a Big 4 firm in Singapore. The participants are presented with a hypothetical scenario in which an audit manager encountered a wrongdoing by the engagement partner who allowed the client to materially misstate sales revenue, and assess their propensity to report the act through the firm’s whistle-blowing hotline after making no headway despite having voiced concerns to the partner. 

    Findings:
    • The authors find that a rewarding incentive scheme, relative to the control group, increases auditors’ whistle-blowing propensity in the absence, but not in the presence, of a close working relationship.
    • The authors find that a penalizing incentive scheme increases auditors’ whistle-blowing propensity regardless of the presence of a close working relationship.
    • The authors find that auditors’ whistle blowing propensity is reduced by the presence of a close working relationship in the rewarding incentive scheme, but not in the penalizing incentive scheme or the control group. 
    Category:
    Corporate Matters, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Corporate Whistle Blowers, Reporting Ethics Breaches - Self & Others
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Whistleblowing in Audit Firms: Do Explicit Protections from...
    research summary posted November 15, 2016 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.06 Reporting Ethics Breaches – Self & Others, 14.0 Corporate Matters, 14.02 Corporate Whistle Blowers 
    Title:
    Whistleblowing in Audit Firms: Do Explicit Protections from Retaliation Activate Implicit Threats of Reprisal?
    Practical Implications:

    This experiment illustrates the fact that organizations should carefully craft their whistleblower hotline policies so as to minimize the salience of retaliation risk. For example, instead of describing explicit protections from retaliation, the organization could explicitly describe the its commitment to ethical behavior. Furthermore, organizations may wish to publicize successful instances of employee whistleblowing as a means of increasing the availability of instances in which whistleblower retaliation did not occur.

    Citation:

    Wainberg, J. and S. Perreault. 2016. Whistleblowing in Audit Firms: Do Explicit Protections from Retaliation Activate Implicit Threats of Reprisal? Behavioral Research in Accounting 28 (1): 83-93. 

    Keywords:
    whistleblowing, corporate governance, vividness congruency theory
    Purpose of the Study:

    Whistleblower hotlines are becoming increasingly important in audit firms since auditors are generally viewed as the first line of defense against corporate malfeasance; however, surveys consistently indicate that a substantial number of employees who witness misconduct still choose not to report. Workplace retaliation is the primary reason that individuals are fearful of reporting any wrongdoing that they witness. This is not an irrational fear, as there have been numerous well-publicized examples of lives and careers that have been irreparably damaged as a result of whistleblower retaliation. Consequently, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has begun recommending that organizations specifically emphasize anti-retaliation protections offered to employees in addition to basic assurances of confidentiality and anonymity. These specific protections are intended to encourage whistleblowing reporting, but the vividness congruency theory suggests that the inclusion of these protections in whistleblower hotline descriptions may actually inhibit such reporting due to the fact that such explicit protections may activate fearful imagery that is incongruent with the message of protection being offered. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors created an experiment in which graduate level students enrolled in an auditing course participated.  

    Findings:
    • The authors find that the inclusion of explicit protections from specific forms of retaliation can lead to an increase in the salience of such threats, thereby significantly lowering the likelihood that the misconduct will be reported through whistleblower hotlines.
    • The authors find that, rather than diminishing the fear of retaliation, auditors’ perceptions of reporting risk were intensified by the presence of explicit protections in the hotline policy. 
    Category:
    Corporate Matters, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Corporate Whistle Blowers, Reporting Ethics Breaches - Self & Others

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