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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    A Reexamination of Audit Fees for Initial Audit Engagements...
    research summary posted December 3, 2014 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 02.0 Client Acceptance and Continuance, 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 03.0 Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, 03.02 Dismissal Decisions – impact of restatements, disagreements, fees, mergers, 04.0 Independence and Ethics 
    Title:
    A Reexamination of Audit Fees for Initial Audit Engagements in the Post-SOX Period
    Practical Implications:

    The results of the study strongly suggest that initial-year audit discounts are quite common and substantial in the post-SOX period. Although the existence of lowballing seems to be a threat to independence, at least in appearance, the existing research on lowballing provides mixed results on its impact on audit quality. The findings will likely be of interest to the PCAOB as it searches for ways to bolster auditor independence and other regulators because many, including the GAO, believe that without non-audit service fees, auditors are less likely to offer ‘‘loss-leader’’ fees for audits.

    For more information on this study, please contact Rosemond Desir.

    Citation:

    Desir, R., J. R. Casterella, and J. Kokina. 2014. A Reexamination of Audit Fees for Initial Audit Engagements in the Post-SOX Period. Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory 33 (2):  59-78

    Keywords:
    Audit fees, auditor independence, lowballing, PCAOB
    Purpose of the Study:

    On August 16, 2011, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) issued a concept release seeking comments on ways to enhance auditor independence. The Board notes that higher failure rates in new audit engagements might be linked to unrealistic pricing. The Board’s concern is that a new auditor might be more susceptible to management pressure if initial-year audit fees are set artificially low.

    Prior to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002, empirical evidence shows that auditors discounted their initial-year audit fees. This practice is known as lowballing and it occurs when auditors price initial-year audit fees lower for new clients with the expectation of increasing the fees substantially in later years in order to recoup their initial losses. Lowballing was expected to decrease significantly after the enactment of SOX.

    Indeed, findings of a study on audit pricing in initial-year audits seem to confirm that Big 4 auditors charged a fee premium on new auditor-client relationships in 2006. However, it is not clear if more recent post-SOX initial-year audits are free of lowballing. In the current study, the authors investigate whether lowballing exists in new auditor-client relationships in an ‘‘extended’’ post-SOX environment for the years 2007 to 2010. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors analyze audit fee data for years 2006 through 2010 for publicly-traded companies that are Big 4 and non-Big 4 clients. The focus of the study is on initial audits following auditor dismissals as there are very few auditor resignations. The audit fee data were collected from Audit Analytics database and financial data – from Compustat.

    Findings:

    The results suggest that both Big 4 and non-Big 4 accounting firms discounted their initial-year audit fees during the sample period (2007–2010), with fee discounts ranging from 16 to 34 percent. In addition, the authors find no evidence of initial-year audit fee discounts (or premiums) in 2006. 

    Category:
    Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, Client Acceptance and Continuance, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Audit Fee Decisions, Dismissal Decisions – impact of restatements - disagreements - fees - mergers etc
  • The Auditing Section
    A Reexamination of Behavior in Experimental Audit Markets:...
    research summary posted May 4, 2012 by The Auditing Section, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 04.04 Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions 
    Title:
    A Reexamination of Behavior in Experimental Audit Markets: The Effects of Moral Reasoning and Economic Incentives on Auditor Reporting and Fees
    Practical Implications:

    These findings suggest that auditors with lower moral reasoning scores (i.e., who tend to cooperate with close allies, but tend to be less cooperative with other parties) might in some cases better adhere to the profession’s duties.  Auditors with higher moral reasoning scores (i.e., who tend to view norms and rules as flexible and interpret them depending on a situation) are more likely to depart from auditing conventions and cooperate with others to their mutual benefit.  There have been similar findings, i.e. contrary to what we might expect in relation to moral reasoning, in other research settings.

    Citation:

    Schatzberg, J. W., G. R. Sevcik, B. P. Shapiro, L. Thorne, and R. S. O. Wallace. 2005. A reexamination of behavior in experimental audit markets: The effects of moral reasoning and economic incentives on auditor reporting and fees. Contemporary Accounting Research 22 (1): 229-264.

    Keywords:
    Audit fee, auditor reporting, cooperation, moral reasoning
    Purpose of the Study:

    In this study, the authors examine how “moral reasoning” (as measured by a commonly-used test) affects auditor reporting under different economic incentives, in an experimental setting.  In the audit of the financial statements process, cooperation between auditors and managers is important so that sufficient evidential matter can be obtained. The authors examine whether auditors are more or less likely to cooperate with management, based on the level of moral reasoning, and penalties for mis-reporting. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors assign participants to either a “higher” or “lower” moral reasoning group based on each participant’s “higher” or “lower” score on a commonly-used moral reasoning test.  A lower score on the moral reasoning test indicates that the participant is focused on what is good for him or her whereas a higher score indicates the individual considers what is best for society.  Although not specifically stated in the study, the data appears to have been collected prior to 2005.  The participants used in this study were recruited from MBA classes.  Participants had to consider whether they would truthfully report a “low” outcome, or report “high” even though the outcome was low (i.e. cooperate with management), which would harm investors but economically benefit the participants.  The authors varied the level of penalty for misreporting to observe how this changes behavior. 

    Findings:
    • Moral reasoning and the economic penalty both significantly affected reporting behavior.  The smaller the economic penalty for misreporting the more frequently the participants tended to misreport.
    • As the economic penalty increased, truthful reporting increased.
    • When auditors engaged in “cooperative reporting behavior” (saying outcome was high when it was really low), managers tended to respond with cooperative contracting behavior (rewarding auditor participants).  Such cooperative contracting behavior was more frequent in higher moral reasoning groups, which is contrary to what we might expect (we would expect higher moral reasoning groups to report truthfully more often as opposed to less often). 
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Managmeent, Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    A Test of the Auditor Reliability Framework Using Lenders’ J...
    research summary posted February 24, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.08 Impact of SEC Rules Changes/SarbOx 
    Title:
    A Test of the Auditor Reliability Framework Using Lenders’ Judgments
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study indicate that banning the provision of both non-audit and audit services by a single firm likely increased perceptions of auditor independence, but did not significantly effect overall judgments of reliability or the extent to which financial statement users incorporate financial statement information into their decision process. Additionally, results of this study indicate that companies who have audits performed by auditors who are perceived to possess greater integrity, expertise and independence likely enjoy reduced costs of borrowing.

    For more information on this study, please contact F. Todd DeZoort.

    Citation:

    DeZoort, F.T., T. Holt, and M.H. Taylor. 2012. A test of the auditor reliability framework using lenders’ judgments. Accounting, Organizations and Society 37 (8): 519-533.

    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this study is to test the relationship between financial statement users’ perceptions of auditor expertise, integrity, independence and objectivity and overall assessments of auditor reliability. Previous research suggests that perceptions of auditor reliability are critical to perceptions of financial statement reliability. This study directly tests that assertion and also investigates the relationship between perceptions of financial statement reliability and subsequent reliance on disclosed financial information. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    Data for this study was collected via a survey of commercial lenders belonging to the Risk Management Association prior to 2012. The survey yielded 187 responses and required participants to review financial information for a hypothetical company. Participants responded to several questions about their perceptions of the company’s auditors, the financial statements and overall risk as a potential applicant for a commercial loan.

    Findings:

    This study investigates the relationship between financial statement users’ perceptions of auditor expertise, integrity, independence and objectivity and makes the following observations:

    • Perceptions of auditor integrity are positively correlated with perceptions of auditor independence, expertise, objectivity and reliability
    • Perceptions of auditor expertise are positively correlated with perceptions of auditor objectivity
    • Perceptions of auditor independence are positively correlated with perceptions of objectivity
    • Perceptions of auditor objectivity are positively correlated with perceptions of auditor reliability.

    This study also investigates how perceptions of auditor reliability influence financial statement users’ interpretation and use of financial statement information.

    • Perceptions of auditor reliability are positively correlated with perceptions of financial statement reliability
    • Perceptions of financial statement reliability are negatively correlated with judged risk of default on a commercial loan

    Finally, manipulating whether or not the auditor provided non-audit services in addition to performing the financial statement audit had the following effects:

    • Negatively impacted perceptions of auditor independence, objectivity and reliability
    • Did not statistically impact perceptions of auditor integrity, expertise, financial statement reliability or default risk
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics, Standard Setting
    Sub-category:
    Impact of SEC Rules Changes/SarBox
  • The Auditing Section
    A Test of the Selection-Socialization Theory in Moral...
    research summary posted May 7, 2012 by The Auditing Section, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.04 Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions 
    Title:
    A Test of the Selection-Socialization Theory in Moral Reasoning of CPAs in Industry Practice
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study are useful for understanding what factors are influential in the moral development of CPAs. Practitioners should consider the results of this study when making hiring and promotion decisions. Results may also be informative to the development of ethical training programs.

    Citation:

    Abdolmohammadi, M. J. and D. L. Ariail. 2009. A Test of the Selection-Socialization Theory in Moral Reasoning of CPAs in Industry Practice. Behavioral Research in Accounting 21 (2): 1-12.

    Keywords:
    moral development; defining issues test (DIT), selection-socialization, Inverted-U
    Purpose of the Study:

    Past research on the moral reasoning of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) has indicated that the the moral reasoning of CPAs in public accounting appears to increase from the senior to manager level but then decrease from the manager to the partner level (referred to as an Inverted-U Phenomenon). This phenomenon is consistent with Selection-Socialization Theory, which predicts that individuals at superior levels (e.g. partners) often promote employees with attributes similar to their own. This paper examines the existence of this phenomenon by collecting information on the moral development of CPAs in both industry and public practice.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collected data (sometime prior to 2009) from 273 practicing CPAs. To measure their moral development, participants were asked to fill out the Defining Issues Test (DIT). The DIT is a generic instrument commonly used in research to determine an individual’s moral development within six stages. The six stages range from low levels of moral reasoning, characterized by self-interest, to higher levels characterized, by law abidance and adherence to universal principles of justice and human rights.

    Findings:
    • The authors do not find significant differences in the moral reasoning between accountants of different rank and thus, no evidence of the Inverted-U Phenomenon suggested by prior research.
    • The authors also did not find differences in moral reasoning between CPAs in industry and those in public practice.
    • Although there is no indication that gender or ethical training affects CPAs’ moral reasoning, the authors do find that CPAs with graduate degrees scored higher in moral reasoning than those with only undergraduate degrees and that politically moderate or liberal CPAs scored higher than conservatives.
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions
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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Aggregate Quasi Rents and Auditor Independence: Evidence...
    research summary posted July 30, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 11.05 Training and General Experience 
    Title:
    Aggregate Quasi Rents and Auditor Independence: Evidence from Audit Firm Mergers in China.
    Practical Implications:

    The findings of this study have policy implications for regulators in China and other emerging economies with regard to administering the auditing profession and improving the corporate governance of public companies by fostering auditor independence. One policy implication of this finding is that simply increasing audit firm size fails to enhance auditor independence. The experience of mature markets suggests that, in addition to public regulatory enforcement, other mechanisms, such as private litigation against auditors and improved disclosures on audit services, are helpful in ensuring a well-functioning audit market.

    Citation:

    Chan, K. H., and Wu, D. 2011. Aggregate Quasi Rents and Auditor Independence: Evidence from Audit Firm Mergers in China. Contemporary Accounting Research 28 (1): 175-213.

    Keywords:
    consolidation & merger of corporations, auditor independence, aggregate quasi rents, audit quality
    Purpose of the Study:

    Prior research suggests that large audit firms have more aggregate quasi rents, which are defined as audit fees in excess of audit costs, to serve as collateral against opportunistic behavior on the part of auditors. Audit firm size affects not only auditor independence, but also auditor competence, which makes clear inferences on the relationship between audit firm size and independence difficult. The economic and regulatory changes in China’s audit market induced a large number of audit firm mergers in a short period of time, thus enabling the authors to investigate the impact of mergers on audit quality in a similar environment for an important economy. In the multi-license mergers, mergers occur between two (or more) accounting firms that are licensed to audit listed companies; in the single-license mergers, an accounting firm with such a license merges with non-licensed firms.

    Using data on audit firm mergers in China, the authors investigate the empirical relationship between audit firms’ aggregate quasi rents at stake and auditor independence in a setting that allows us to mitigate potential problems. However, they do have an immediate and significant impact on audit firm size and auditors’ aggregate quasi rents. Therefore, the changes in audit quality that occur immediately after mergers take place can be attributed mainly to changes in auditors’ independence rather than competence. The authors investigate the differences in independence between the pre-merger and immediate post-merger periods of the auditors in the same audit firms.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collect data for audit firm mergers that took place between 1999 and 2006 from the CICPA and several leading financial newspapers. Client firm financial statement and stock market data are from the China Stock Market & Accounting Research database (CSMAR). The sample consists of 59 cases, including 21 multi-license mergers (MULTI hereafter) and 38 single-license mergers (SINGLE hereafter).

    Findings:

    The evidence indicates that an increase in audit firm size does not necessarily lead to an improvement in auditor independence. What matters is the size of the public clientele, where the quasi rents are more likely to serve as collateral against auditor malfeasance.

    • The level of independence, and thus audit quality, is determined by the auditor’s trade-offs between the costs and benefits of opportunistic behavior.
    • Audit firms involved in MULTI mergers are more likely to issue MAOs (modified auditor opinions) to their clients after the mergers.
    • This increased propensity to issue MAOs is significantly related to the change in audit firm size after the mergers.
    • There is no evidence to suggest any significant change in the issuance of MAOs among audit firms involved in SINGLE mergers.
    • The different effects of mergers on audit quality support the theory that auditor independence is a positive function of the aggregate quasi rents a stake.
    • The increase in MAOs is positively correlated with the change in the size of listed clientele that results from multi-license mergers.
    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Sustainability ServicesTraining & General Experience
  • 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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  • James L Fuehrmeyer
    An Empirical Analysis of Auditor Independence in the Banking...
    research summary posted March 19, 2013 by James L Fuehrmeyer, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 04.03 Non-Audit Services 
    Title:
    An Empirical Analysis of Auditor Independence in the Banking Industry
    Practical Implications:

    The results suggest that fees paid to auditors, even for non-audit services, can potentially threaten auditor independence, particularly among banks that are not subject to the same level of regulatory scrutiny as large banks.

    Citation:

    Kanagaretnam, K., G. V. Krishnan, and G. J. Lobo. 2010. An Empirical Analysis of Auditor Independence in the Banking Industry. The Accounting Review 85 (6): 2011-2046.

    Keywords:
    auditor independence; earnings management; auditor fees; bank loan
    Purpose of the Study:

    Auditor independence is vital to maintaining public confidence in capital markets and to the integrity of corporate financial statements. The objective of this study is to examine auditor independence in the banking industry.

    • The study provides evidence on the relation between fees paid to auditors of banks and the extent of earnings management via loan loss provisions (LLPs).
    • The study is timely and relevant given the recent banking crisis and that governments around the world are contemplating new banking regulations.
    • The research informs policymakers on the relationship that existed between fees paid to auditors and the extent of earnings management in banks prior to the current banking crisis.
    • Authors examine difference between large and small firms that face different levels of regulation. Small firms are not subject to regulation under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act (FICIA) of 1991.
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collected 1,740 bank-year observations over the years 2000–2006. The authors determine abnormal LLPs and examine the association between abnormal LLPs and unexplained total fees and unexplained non-audit fees. They then examine whether the association is different depending on whether the bank is small (total assets of less than $500 million or less than $1 billion, effective 2005, or non-accelerated filers under Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley Act, effective 2004) or large.

    Findings:
    • For large banks, there is no relationship between abnormal LLPs and unexplained total fees or unexplained non-audit fees.
    • For small banks, higher unexplained total fees and unexplained non-audit fees are positively associated with income-increasing earnings management through LLPs. Higher unexplained total fees and unexplained non-audit fees are negatively associated with income-decreasing earnings management through LLPs. These two results provide evidence that banks that pay higher audit fees engage in more earnings management.
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    An Examination of How Entry-Level Staff Auditors Respond to...
    research summary posted July 15, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 04.04 Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions, 04.09 Individual & Team Conduct - e.g., premature signoff, underreporting hours 
    Title:
    An Examination of How Entry-Level Staff Auditors Respond to Tone at the Top vis-a`-vis Tone at the Bottom.
    Practical Implications:

    These findings add to the understanding of how accountants respond to ethical tones at all levels within their organization and provide important evidence that the tone at the bottom is a key determinant, more so than tone at the top, of the ethical decision making of staff auditors. This study provides important insights into how ethical tone at multiple levels of an organization impacts entry-level employees’ ethical decision making. By recognizing the important role that immediate supervisors play in influencing their subordinates, organizations can more effectively promote an ethical culture at all levels of the organization and not simply at the top.

    Citation:

    Pickerd, J. S., Summers, S. L., & Wood, D. A. 2015. An Examination of How Entry-Level Staff Auditors Respond to Tone at the Top vis-a`-vis Tone at the BottomBehavioral Research in Accounting 27 (1): 79-98.

    Keywords:
    accountability, auditing, control environment, tone at the top, underreporting
    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this study is to examine how entry-level staff auditors make decisions in the presence of sometimes conflicting ethical tones set by their supervising senior (tone at the bottom) and partner (tone at the top).

    The authors employ self-concept maintenance theory, which argues that unethical behavior becomes acceptable to the degree the action can be rationalized, is used to motivate this study. The low ethical tone of supervisors at the top and/or bottom may cause entry level staff auditors to construe unethical situations as devoid of ethical implications, such that entry level staff auditors may act more unethically if either (or both) of their supervisors exhibit a low ethical tone. Further, in-group bias theory, which suggests that individuals will be more influenced by close in-group members who are similar to them than by out-group members who are dissimilar to them, is used to predict that entry-level staff auditors will follow the tone set by their senior more than the tone set by a partner. This study also examines how individuals perceive their own ethical decisions under such conditions.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    A 2x2 between-subjects experiment is administered to 114 graduate accounting students from a private university. 70 percent of participants had performed an internship and 72 percent had signed with an employer. Participants are told they went over budget on the number of hours they spent auditing cash and must decide how many to report. Ethical tone is manipulated using the tone from both the engagement senior and engagement partner. The evidence was gathered prior to September 2014.

    Findings:
    • The findings indicate that tone at the top and tone at the bottom interact, such that if either the partner and/or the senior exhibit low tone, then participants are more likely to misreport the number of hours they worked on the engagement.  
    • Participants are more influenced by the tone set by their supervising senior than that of their engagement partner. This suggests to the authors that tone at the bottom is a critical determinant of the ethical decision making of entry-level staff auditors.  
    • Tone significantly affects whether participants interpret the decision to underreport as an ethical dilemma. 
    • When both a partner and a senior exhibit high tone, participants are significantly more likely to interpret their decision on whether to underreport hours as an ethical dilemma than in the other conditions. This result suggests that poor tone causes individuals to cease considering the ethical implications of their decisions, thus allowing them to maintain a high self-concept when they violate organizational standards.
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, Individual & team conduct (e.g. premature signoff - underreporting hours), Moral Development and Individual Ethics Decisions
  • 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
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    An Experimental Investigation of the Influence of Audit Fee...
    research summary posted October 15, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 02.0 Client Acceptance and Continuance, 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 03.0 Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management 
    Title:
    An Experimental Investigation of the Influence of Audit Fee Structure and Auditor Selection Rights on Auditor Independence and Client Investment Decisions
    Practical Implications:

     Lowballing has been cited as a threat to auditor independence and manager performance in regulatory reports and academic research. This study suggests that auditors may face independence issues at the beginning of a client relationship under the lowballing fee structure because of the uncertainty of retaining a client. The study also suggests, however, that these independence issues seem to dissipate over time. Therefore, auditors should be aware of these potential opportunities to lose objectivity when they acquire new audit clients and continue to rely on professional skepticism to evaluate management assertions.

    For more information on this study, please contact Darius J. Fatemi.
     

    Citation:

    Fatemi, D. J. 2012. An Experimental Investigation of the Influence of Audit Fee Structure and Auditor Selection Rights on Auditor Independence and Client Investment Decisions. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 31(3): 75-94.

    Keywords:
    Audit fees; auditor independence; experimental economics; manager investment; auditor selection.
    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effect of audit fee structure on auditors, their clients, and investors. The author wanted to specifically investigate how a lowballing audit fee structure as opposed to a flat rate fee structure impacts:

    • manager investment decisions
    • the degree of investigation of management decisions by auditors
    • the price that investors pay for shares of the company

    The author also investigated whether a cause-effect relationship exists between the use of a lowballing audit fee structure (in which auditors provide initial services at reduced prices but at higher prices in later periods) and auditor independence when retention is of concern to the auditor.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The author utilized an experimental market using undergraduate accounting majors that were randomly assigned to the roles of managers, investors, and auditors.  The auditors followed either a lowballing fee structure or a flat rate fee structure. Auditor selection was performed by either the managers or the investors. The managers bid on firm assets and provided a disclosure of the value of the assets to the investors. Auditors decided the extent to which they investigated managers’ claims and either concurred with manager’s disclosures or they provided information that the auditors believed to be more accurate.

    Findings:

    Compared to the flat-rate fee structure, managers under a lowballing fee structure scheme were:

    • more willing to make a high cost/return investment
    • more concerned with the credibility of their reports
       

    Auditor behavior is summarized as a response to past manager choices: when managers were especially willing to invest and be honest, auditors performed fewer tests of manager disclosures. Additionally, under manager selection and when lowballing existed, auditors attributed a higher accuracy to investigations indicating high manager investment than tests that suggest low investment, while accuracy assessments of favorable and unfavorable test results did not differ under investor selection. Finally, auditor retention under manager selection was negatively impacted by both unreliable auditing and disagreements with managers, but retention was only affected by unreliable auditing under investor selection.

    Category:
    Auditor Selection and Auditor Changes, Client Acceptance and Continuance, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Audit Fee Decisions, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management

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