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  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Auditor Choice and Audit Fees in Family Firms:Evidence from...
    research summary posted July 20, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management 
    Title:
    Auditor Choice and Audit Fees in Family Firms:Evidence from the S&P 1500
    Practical Implications:

    This study provides policy-makers and practitioners with critical insight into differences in auditor selection criteria between family and non-family firms and differences in the severity of their agency conflicts between shareholders and managers and also between family owners and minority shareholders.

    Our empirical evidence also sheds light on how family firms view and value the external audit and whether they are selecting auditors on price or quality, or some combination of these factors. In addition, given the current downward trend in audit revenues as a percentage of total revenues, our findings could lead accounting firms to re-examine how they market audit services to family firms.

    Citation:

    Ho, J.L., and F.Kang. 2013.Auditor Choice and Audit Fees in Family Firms: Evidence from the S&P 1500.Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory32(4): 71-93

    Keywords:
    Auditor choice; audit fees; family firms; agency problems
    Purpose of the Study:

    The authors study auditor choice and audit fees in family firms, which have a special ownership structure and different types of agency problems. Family firms are both prevalent and important in the U.S. About one-third of the S&P 500 are family-controlled companies in which the founding families on average own 11 percent of the cash flow rights and 18 percent of the voting rights.

    The unique class of family shareholders may influence firms’ auditor choice in two competing ways. On one hand, compared to non-family firms, family owners can more directly and closely monitor managers and therefore have less severe agency conflicts with managers. This may result in a lower demand for high-quality auditors. On the other hand, due to the agency problems between family owners and minority shareholders, family firms may have incentives to hire high-quality auditors as a signal of credible financial reporting in exchange for better contracting terms (e.g., lower cost of capital). Similarly, the different types of agency problems in family firms may also affect the level of audit fees. Family owners’ active monitoring reduces the inherent risk of material misstatements in financial reporting and results in a lower demand for audit effort, and therefore audit fees. However, the severe agency problems between family owners and minority shareholders suggest that family firms may incur higher audit fees due to higher audit risk and greater audit effort. Therefore, the effect of family firm characteristics on auditor choice and audit fees warrants empirical investigation.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The empirical analysis is performed on firms listed on the S&P 1500 index from 2000 through 2008. We define family firms as those in which founders or their family members (by either blood or marriage) are key executives, directors, or block holders and update the classification every year. We hand collected the ownership of the founding family and test our hypotheses on family firms’ auditor choice and audit fees using regressions.

    Findings:
    • The authors find that, on average, family firms are less likely to appoint top-tier accounting firms and incur lower audit fees than non-family firms.
    • The authors observe that the tendency not to hire top-tier accounting firms and to pay lower audit fees is more significant for firms in which family owners are the largest shareholders.
    • The authors find that, compared to family firms without dual-class shares, family firms with dual-class shares tend to mitigate their more severe agency problems between family owners and minority shareholders by hiring top-tier accounting firms to signal their earnings quality and they incur higher audit fees.
    • The authors also find that active family control (i.e., family members as CEOs or on the board) is associated with a lower tendency to hire top-tier accounting firms and lower audit fees.
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management
    Home:

    http://commons.aaahq.org/groups/e5075f0eec/summary

  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Does Incentive-Based Compensation for Chief Internal...
    research summary posted June 22, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 02.02 Client Risk Assessment, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 08.11 Reliance on Internal Auditors 
    Title:
    Does Incentive-Based Compensation for Chief Internal Auditors Impact Objectivity? An External Audit Risk Perspective
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study suggest that companies who offer incentive-based compensation to chief internal auditors, especially through equity, are more likely to be perceived as having a higher audit risk by external auditors. Consequently, external auditors may charge a higher fee for their services. This study gives a basis for the benefit/cost analysis of providing incentive-based compensation for chief internal auditors. While it is possible internal auditors will respond positively to an IBC and bring extra value to the organization, there is a risk that an external auditor could raise audit fees cancelling out this added benefit.   

    Citation:

    Chen, Lucy Huajing, H. H. Chung, G. F. Peters., and J. P. Wynn. (Jeannie).2017. Does Incentive-Based Compensation for Chief Internal Auditors Impact Objectivity? An External Audit Risk Perspective. Auditing, A Journal of Practice and Theory 36 (21): 21-44

    Keywords:
    Incentive-based compensation; internal auditor objectivity; audit fees
    Purpose of the Study:

    The internal audit function (IAF) is increasingly seen as a key component of corporate governance. The extent to which external auditors can rely on information from the IAF depends largely on the internal auditor’s objectivity. The researchers question whether receiving incentive-based compensation (IBC) linked to company performance threatens internal audit employees’ objectivity. Subsequently, this threat would lead to a higher assessment of client audit risk and therefore higher audit fees. The authors also consider whether external auditors view stock- and option-based compensation differently from cash incentives. Finally, the authors examine whether the objectivity threat from IBC depends on the company’s financial reporting risks, alignment of IAF compensation with CEO compensation, and presence of any internal audit outsourcing arrangements.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors surveyed chief internal auditors of NYSE-listed firms in 2007. The participants were asked to rank the performance measures in order of their emphasis and to indicate the form of IBC payment. By asking survey respondents to provide their company names, the authors could match the financial, audit fee, governance, and incentive data from various databases (Compustat, Audit Analytics, proxy statements, etc.). The final sample included 183 companies. Authors used multivariate regression to analyze their research questions.

    Findings:

    The overall finding is that when a company offers incentive-based compensation to a chief internal auditor, external audit fees increase. This finding suggests that external auditors do consider IBC for chief internal auditors as a threat against objectivity.

     

    Additionally, the authors find that:

    • External auditors are more likely to charge higher fees for stock- and option-based compensation compared to cash bonuses. They attribute this result to employees placing more of an emphasis on personal wealth rather than firm value.
    • There is a stronger positive effect of chief internal auditors receiving IBC and external auditor fees increasing when inherent risk is higher in the audit. Specifically, the authors focused on inherent risk related to inventory levels.
    • In situations where the CEO’s equity incentives are aligned with IAF’s equity incentives there is an even greater rise in external auditor fees.
    Category:
    Auditing Procedures - Nature - Timing and Extent, Client Acceptance and Continuance, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Client Risk Assessment
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    The Institutionalization of Commercialism in the Accounting...
    research summary posted August 31, 2016 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management 
    Title:
    The Institutionalization of Commercialism in the Accounting Profession: An Identity-Experimentation Perspective
    Practical Implications:

    This paper synthesizes many theories of institutional experimentation and identifies work for advancing the understanding of commercialism in the accounting profession. It also contributes through the explication of identity experimentation as a key mechanism used by the accounting profession to institutionalize commercialism. The paper works to demarcate boundary work and practice work as two different types of identity experimentation. Finally, the paper delineates the difference between deriving an auditor identity from audit practice and deriving expert work from a versatile expert identity.

    Citation:

    Guo, K. 2016. The Institutionalization of Commercialism in the Accounting Profession: An Identity-Experimentation Perspective. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 35 (3): 99-118.

    Keywords:
    professionalism, commercialism, institutional work, institutional experimentation, identity experimentation, institutional logic
    Purpose of the Study:

    As the system of accounting stands today, auditors are hired by clients for a fee to examine and opine on their financial reports while maintaining independence from the client; however, it follows that the independence of the auditor could be questioned due to the financial dependence of the auditor on the client. In fact, many are beginning to believe that auditors have become more commercialistic (serving economic self-interest) than professional (serving the public interest) as a result of deregulation in the professional services area. The author chooses to investigate how the accounting profession, collectively, has become more committed to commercialism in the recent decades. The author separates his work from the work of previous researchers by truly focusing on the collective identity of the profession by developing an identity-experimentation framework. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    To develop the identity-experimentation framework, the author reviewed and synthesized many relevant studies in the accounting and management literature. Furthermore, he utilizes recent cases as examples to highlight the accounting profession’s efforts to institutionalize commercialism. 

    Findings:
    • The framework highlights two key identity-experimentation strategies: boundary work and practice work.
    • Boundary work has two different forms.
      • The first involves making identity claims about auditor expertise and traits and largely focuses on how auditor expertise and traits can claim to help achieve pragmatic ends.
      • The second involves the redefinition of the auditor boundary.
    • Practice work involves the creation of an expert-work identity; by reinventing the audit and tailor-making expert work for versatile experts, the accounting profession aims to achieve the taken-for-grantedness of “versatile experts doing expert work.”
    • The author finds that identity experimentation in the accounting profession can be viewed as an ongoing and trial-and-error process that involves what is termed as “constant jockeying” and aims to “fashion shared meanings and identities.”
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality?
    research summary posted October 20, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.06 Earnings Management, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.06 Audit Fees and Fee Negotiations, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control 
    Title:
    Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality?
    Practical Implications:

    The study provides useful insight into current regulatory debates on the auditor’s economic dependence on the client and increases understanding to the reasons why previous research provides mixed evidence on the association between various fee metrics and the extent of earnings management. If the association between abnormal fees and the magnitude of discretionary accruals is conditioned on the sign of abnormal fees, examining the association without reference to the sign of abnormal fees most likely leads to observations of insignificant associations, as also reported in most previous studies. This study’s findings suggest that future research on similar issues should take into account the asymmetric nonlinearity in the fee-quality relation.

    Citation:

    Choi, J. H., J. B. Kim, and Y. Zang. 2010. Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality? Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory 29 (2): 115-140.

    Keywords:
    audit quality, abnormal audit fees, earnings management
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study examines whether the association between audit fees and audit quality is asymmetric and thus nonlinear in the sense that the association is conditioned upon the sign of abnormal audit fees. The authors define abnormal audit fees as the difference between actual audit fees (i.e., actual fees paid to auditors for their financial statement audits) and the expected, normal level of audit fees. Actual audit fees consist of two parts: (1) normal fees that reflect auditors’ effort costs, litigation risk, and normal profits, and (2) abnormal fees that are specific to an auditor-client relationship. Normal fees are mainly determined by factors that are common across different clients, such as client size, client complexity, and client-specific risk, while abnormal fees are determined by factors that are idiosyncratic to a specific auditor-client relationship. As noted by Kinney and Libby, abnormal fees “may more accurately be likened to attempted bribes” and can better capture economic rents associated with audit services or an auditor’s economic bond to a client than normal fees or actual fees.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors obtain audit and nonaudit fee data from the Compustat audit fees file and all other financial data from the Compustat Industrial Annual File. The sample period for this study is restricted to the four-year period from 2000 to 2003. The full sample consists of 9,815 firm-years over the four-year sample period. They also construct a reduced sample of 7,061 observations that meet the data requirements for computing two additional variables. 

    Findings:

    The regression results reveal the following:

    • The proxy for audit quality is insignificantly associated with abnormal audit fees for the total sample of client firms with both positive and negative abnormal audit fees.
    • When the authors split total observations into those with positive abnormal fees and those with negative abnormal fees, the results change dramatically.
    • When the abnormal fees are positive, the magnitude of absolute discretionary accruals (an inverse measure of audit quality) is positively associated with abnormal fees, suggesting a negative relation between audit quality and positive abnormal fees.
    • In contrast, the association is insignificant when the abnormal fees are negative.
    • These findings imply that positive and negative abnormal fees create different incentive effects, for clients with positive abnormal fees, auditors are more likely to acquiesce to client pressure as abnormal audit fees increase, whereas for clients with negative abnormal fees, auditors are unlikely to compromise audit quality.
    • In contrast to the findings on the asymmetric association between abnormal audit fees and audit quality, the authors find no significant, comparable relation when abnormal nonaudit service (NAS) fees or abnormal total fees are used as a measure of auditor-client economic bond in lieu of abnormal audit fees.
    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Engagement Management, Independence & Ethics, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Sub-category:
    Audit Fees & Fee Negotiations, Earnings Management, Earnings Management, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Materiality Judgments and the Resolution of Detected...
    research summary posted October 13, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.05 Assessing Risk of Material Misstatement, 13.0 Governance, 13.05 Board/Audit Committee Oversight, 14.0 Corporate Matters, 14.01 Earnings Management 
    Title:
    Materiality Judgments and the Resolution of Detected Misstatements: The Role of Managers, Auditors, and Audit Committees.
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study shed light on the complex interplay between analyst following, the pressure that managers face to manage earnings, the pressure that auditors face to protect their reputations in the post-SOX environment, and the important role that audit committees can play in settings in which managers may act strategically to achieve desired financial reporting outcomes.

    Citation:

    Keune, M. B., and K. M. Johnstone. 2012. Materiality Judgments and the Resolution of Detected Misstatements: The Role of Managers, Auditors, and Audit Committees. Accounting Review 87 (5): 1641-1677.

    Keywords:
    audit committees, audit fees, error correction, materiality, stock analysts
    Purpose of the Study:

    Auditors detect and inform client managers and audit committees of misstatements, and these agents must reach agreement about whether managers will correct the misstatements prior to issuing the financial statements. Managers may waive correcting misstatements if auditors and audit committees conclude that the misstatements do not render the financial statements materially incorrect. Yet, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and others have asked the rhetorical question: If a misstatement is immaterial, then why not correct it? Given the absence of bright-line criteria for assessing materiality, judgments about resolving misstatements may be strategic to achieve desired financial reporting outcomes. Analysis of the role of managers, auditors, and audit committees in misstatement materiality judgments is therefore important because it can aid understanding of observed audit and financial reporting outcomes that can affect users.

    In this study the authors make use of regulation concerning the resolution of detected misstatements contained in Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 108 (SAB 108). The implementation of SAB 108 provides disclosure data on detected misstatements that were previously judged immaterial and were not corrected in the financial statements until the release of the new guidance. The authors use the SAB 108 disclosures to measure both the qualitative and the quantitative materiality of misstatements during the periods in which they remained uncorrected.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The data-collection period covers 10-Qs filed from November 15, 2006 to February 28, 2007 and 10-Ks filed from November 15, 2006 to February 15, 2008, and the analyses examine waived misstatements that existed in the financial statements during the period January 1, 2003 to September 30, 2006. To identify these misstatements, the authors read SAB 108 disclosures to find companies that corrected misstatements under SAB 108. 

    Findings:
    • The authors find that managers are generally more likely to waive qualitatively material misstatements as analyst following increases, but this effect is primarily present when audit fees are relatively low.
    • They find auditors are less likely to allow managers to waive quantitatively material misstatements as audit fees increase.
    • The authors also find a negative interaction between audit fees and analyst pressure on the likelihood that auditors will allow managers to waive qualitatively material misstatements.
    • Specifically, auditors’ incentives to protect their reputations weaken the effect of managerial incentives associated with the pressure created by analyst following; auditors are less likely to allow managers to waive qualitatively material misstatements as audit fees increase.
    • The authors find that audit committees with greater financial expertise are less likely to allow managers to waive qualitatively or quantitatively material misstatements than are audit committees with less expertise.
    Category:
    Corporate Matters, Governance, Independence & Ethics, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Sub-category:
    Assessing Risk of Material Misstatement, Board/Audit Committee Oversight, Earnings Management, Earnings Management, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Fee Discounting and Audit Quality Following Audit Firm and...
    research summary posted September 16, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 15.0 International Matters, 15.01 Audit Partner Identification by Name 
    Title:
    Fee Discounting and Audit Quality Following Audit Firm and Audit Partner Changes: Chinese Evidence.
    Practical Implications:

    The study results are important to regulators and audit practitioners as they show the consequences of initial year audit fee low-balling on the performance of the audit. Lower audit quality occurs when an audit firm change includes a change to both audit partners along with a reduction in audit fees. This indicates that retaining one or both of the former audit partners in the new audit firm can offset the reduced audit quality effect in the initial years of the audit engagement. 

    Citation:

    Huang, H.-W., K. Raghunandan, T.-C. Huang, and J.-R. Chiou. 2015. Fee Discounting and Audit Quality Following Audit Firm and Audit Partner Changes: Chinese Evidence. The Accounting Review 90 (4): 15171546.

    Keywords:
    audit fees, auditor changes, audit quality
    Purpose of the Study:

    Global regulators have voiced concerns regarding the low-balling of initial audit fees and the effect on audit quality. Although prior studies in the United States provide evidence of the low-balling effect, the emergence of China as a global economic power provides motivation to examine the low-balling effect in the Chinese audit market. In addition, there is limited evidence on the audit quality effects of low-balling the initial audit fee.  

    This paper addresses whether: 1) the low-balling of initial audit fees occurs in China; 2) there is an association between the low-balling of initial audit fees and the type of audit partner change related to an audit firm change; and 3) the reduction of the initial audit fees influences low quality audits.

    The Chinese audit market expanded in the late 1990s primarily through mergers. In some cases, audit partners changed firms but retained their audit client base. With the public disclosure of audit partner names in China, the authors can determine if the audit firm change results in an audit partner change.  For this study, a normal audit firm change occurs when both of the audit partners are new to the audit engagement. For this normal change, the authors expect a higher instance of low-balling of initial year audit fees. Alternatively, if one or both of the audit partners continue on the audit engagement after an audit firm change, the authors expect a reduced low-balling effect.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors employ an archival research methodology in this study. They obtain audit fees, financial data, return data, and corporate governance information from the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) database. Audit partner and audit firm information is from the Taiwan Economic Journal (TEJ) database. The sample period is from 2002-2012. All data is for clients listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

    Findings:
    • The authors find evidence of the low-balling of initial audit fees in the Chinese audit market. Specifically, they show the greatest reduction in initial audit fees when the audit client engages a new firm and both of the audit partners are new to the engagement. Using an audit fee changes model, the initial audit fee discount is approximately 4% when both audit partners are new to the client. 
    • When evaluating audit quality, the authors find that audit sanctions from the Chinese regulator are more likely when there is an audit firm change with two new audit partners and an initial audit fee discount. Using discretionary accruals, they find consistent results with the sanctions results of lower audit quality. Using modified audit opinions, the results provide weaker evidence of lower audit quality than when using sanctions or discretionary accruals. 
    • The authors noted no evidence that audit partner changes, without a related audit firm change, result in lower audit quality.
    • Interestingly, the authors find that initial audit fee reductions become smaller over time and the association between fee reductions and lower audit quality is insignificant after the first two years of the audit.   
    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Independence & Ethics, International Matters
    Sub-category:
    Audit Partner Identification by Name, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    How Do Regulatory Reforms to Enhance Auditor Independence...
    research summary posted July 29, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 04.07 Audit Firm Rotation, 14.0 Corporate Matters, 14.11 Audit Committee Effectiveness 
    Title:
    How Do Regulatory Reforms to Enhance Auditor Independence Work in Practice?
    Practical Implications:

    This study sheds light on what underlies decision making in the imperative audit committee responsibility of auditor appointment: nuanced interactions and power asymmetry among management, the audit committee, and auditors. The auditors viewed the CFO as the client and tailored the proposal accordingly. The audit committee will not be effective unless both auditors and audit committee members fundamentally change their mindsets about their respective roles in relation to client management. As large public companies employ multiple Big 4 firm, the viability of severing existing relationships to bring in a truly independent auditor mindset through audit firm rotation is questionable.

    Citation:

    Fiolleau, K., Hoang, K., Jamal, K., & Sunder, S. 2013. How Do Regulatory Reforms to Enhance Auditor Independence Work in Practice? Contemporary Accounting Research 30 (3): 864-890.

    Keywords:
    audit committees, reforms, auditor independence, audit firm rotation, independence
    Purpose of the Study:

    This article presents a study on regulatory reforms that aim to enhance auditor independence work. In order to achieve the right balance between the auditors serving commercial versus professional interests, regulators implemented a set of alternative remedies that include mandatory audit partner rotation and enhanced audit committee responsibilities, expertise and independence. As of September 2013, regulators based in Europe and the U.S. are considering to extend rotation requirement to encompass audit firm rotation rather than partner rotation. In this paper, the authors conduct a field study to investigate how regulatory reforms designed to promote auditor independence (specifically audit committee reforms and proposed audit firm rotation requirements) may actually work in the context of auditor change. This study of auditor change also yields insights into the potential consequences of increasing the frequency of auditorclient courtships through mandatory audit firm rotation, which has recently been proposed by regulators as a way of reinforcing auditor independence. The underlying premise is that audit quality would be enhanced by weakening the economic and relationship bonds between auditors and their clients. The authors investigate how the audit committee interprets and executes its legislative mandate in appointing an independent external auditor.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collected data six months after the company’s RFP process and new auditor appointment. The authors obtained a copy of the company’s RFP document from the CFO, and copies of the bid documents directly from all Big 4 audit firms who bid for this audit. They interviewed the company’s CFO and the chair of the audit committee. The authors interviewed each of the four proposed engagement audit partners for 60-90 minutes.

    Findings:
    • Management controlled access to documents and people, and played a powerful role in making the auditor appointment decision.
    • Management engaged the audit firm that offered the least senior level expertise and the lowest fee.
    • The audit committee adopted management’s priorities in encouraging prospective auditors to demonstrate responsiveness to management.
    • Prospective auditors were reticent to probe the client for information that would have helped them identify risks before accepting the engagement.
    • The auditors were focused on winning the client and were willing to cut fees, move partners to the client’s head office city, and curtail quality control.
    • If management, with private information and interests, continues to have substantial influence over hiring the auditor, then regulatory reforms for audit firm rotation and/or audit committee empowerment are likely to be ineffective.
    • Auditor change puts pressure on audit fees, and requires auditors to demonstrate commitment and responsiveness to the management of both prospective clients and current ones used as referees.
    • Instead of strengthening independence and providing a fresh auditor perspective, the authors find that the auditor change process is dominated by management and is characterized by gestures from prospective auditors to win client favor during the courtship, potentially rendering proposed audit firm rotation ineffective.
    Category:
    Corporate Matters, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Audit Committee Effectiveness, Audit Firm Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & 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
    Did SOX Influence the Association between Fee Dependence and...
    research summary posted February 20, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.05 Impact of SOX, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.04 Going Concern Decisions 
    Title:
    Did SOX Influence the Association between Fee Dependence and Auditors’ Propensity to Issue Going-Concern Opinions?
    Practical Implications:

    This research note presents evidence that the question of whether new standards or regulations have achieved the objective of altering the behavior of their intended target cannot be adequately assessed shortly after they have come into effect, as the implementation often requires a steep learning curve and is frequently accompanied by intense public debates and media scrutiny. From the policy standpoint, it suggests that the concern expressed by the U.S, Treasury Department officials about auditors’ applying an overly strict approach in their audits to counter elevated liability after SOX may not be warranted.

    For more information on this study, please contact Wenjun Zhang.

    Citation:

    Kao, J. L., Y. Li., and W. Zhang. 2014. Did SOX influence the association between fee dependence and auditors’ propensity to issue going-concern opinions? Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 33 (2): 165-185

    Keywords:
    Fee dependence, going-concern opinion, auditor independence, SOX
    Purpose of the Study:

    Li (2009) shows that the association between fee dependence (FEEDEP) and auditors’ likelihood to issue qualified going-concern audit opinions (GCO) changes from insignificant in 2001 to positive in 2003. Since then, several studies have quoted Li’s (2009) findings as evidence that SOX has led auditors to behave more conservatively with respect to going-concern reporting.

    This research note extends Li’s (2009) post-SOX sample period from 2003 to 2011 and demonstrates that her findings for 2003 do not hold over a much longer post-SOX period, implying that SOX has had little effect on auditors’ behavior with respect to going-concern reporting for their large financially distressed clients. These results call into question whether the positive FEEDEP-GCO association identified by Li (2009) indeed represents new audit practice in the post-SOX era.

    This research note is motivated by Feldmann and Read (2010), who showed that the incidence of qualified going-concern opinions issued to subsequently bankrupt companies reverted back to the pre-Enron level by 2006-2007 after a brief increase in 2002-2003, suggesting that the year right after the passage of SOX was not typical. Thus, by focusing on 2003, researchers merely capture a transitory reaction by the audit profession to intense public scrutiny following SOX.

     

    Reference: Li, C. 2009. Does client importance affect auditor independence at the office level? Empirical evidence from going-concern opinions. Contemporary Accounting Research 26 (1): 201-230.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors run ten annual regressions (2001; 2003-2011) of auditors’ propensity to issue qualified going-concern opinions to financially distressed audit clients (GCO) on a fee dependence measure (FEEDEP). Comparing the association between GCO and FEEDEP before versus after the passage of SOX, the authors draw inferences about whether the more conservative going-concern reporting documented by Li (2009) indeed represents a long-term equilibrium behavior in the post-SOX audit market. 

    Findings:
    • The authors find no association between auditors’ propensity to issue qualified going-concern opinions to financially distressed audit clients and the fee dependence measure over an extended post-SOX period (i.e., 2003-2011), implying that SOX has had no observable lasting effect on auditor conservatism with respect to going-concern reporting.
    • The authors find that while auditors were equally cautious in issuing qualified going-concern opinions to clients that eventually failed, both before and after SOX, they have made more Type I misclassifications in 2003 by issuing qualified going-concern opinions to clients that remained solvent within two years of financial statement dates. 
    Category:
    Auditor Judgment, Independence & Ethics, Standard Setting
    Sub-category:
    Going Concern Decisions, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, Impact of SOX
  • Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips
    Auditor Fees and Auditor Independence: Evidence from Going...
    research summary posted April 17, 2014 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 02.0 Client Acceptance and Continuance, 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.04 Going Concern Decisions 
    Title:
    Auditor Fees and Auditor Independence: Evidence from Going Concern Reporting Decisions
    Practical Implications:

    The finding of this study suggest that concerns over the relation between auditor fees and the possible impairment of auditor independence, as reflected in going concern modification decisions, are supported in the more recent years for highly distressed clients. The relationship between auditor fees and impairment of auditor independence with respect to auditor decision-making has long been a concern of many regulators in the accounting industry. This research may inform both audit firms and standard setters with respect to specific types of engagements and the judgments or behaviors most likely to be affected.

    For more information on this study, please contact Allen D. Blay.
     

    Citation:

    Blay, A. D., and M. A. Geiger. 2013. Auditor Fees and Auditor Independence: Evidence from Going Concern Reporting Decisions. Contemporary Accounting Research 30 (2).

    Keywords:
    auditor fees; auditor independence; going concern; regression analysis
    Purpose of the Study:

    The possible adverse effect of auditors providing services to clients who pay them directly has historically been a concern of the public accounting profession. Without independence there is no need for external auditors attesting to the purported accuracy and completeness of company financial statements. The association between fees received by audit firms directly from clients and the possible impairment of auditor independence, particularly with respect to going concern decisions, continues to be of considerable interest to regulators and others. This study assesses the potential impairment of auditor independence in the context of going concern reporting.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors derive their findings examining the association between both current and future audit service and nonaudit service fees received by U.S. auditors and the type of opinion rendered to a financially distressed client. To achieve their sample, the authors used the Audit Analytics database and first identified firms that received a going concern modified (GCM) audit opinion in the years 2004-2006. They also identified firms that had both negative income and cash flows from operations in the same year but did not receive a GCM opinion. Finally, the authors tested their hypotheses by using a research model to determine the probability of issuing a GCM audit opinion to a financially distressed client. 

    Findings:

    A negative correlation exists between future fees paid to auditors and auditor going concern opinion decisions.
    Higher levels of current nonaudit service fees paid to auditors reduces the frequency of going concern opinion modifications in the more recent 2004-2006 time period when using a more stringent control sample of financially distressed firms.
    Findings related to going concern decisions and nonaudit service fees in the United States are sensitive to both the time period examined and the selection of appropriate control samples of distressed non-GCM firms.
    A negative association exists between current nonaudit service fees and total subsequent fees paid to auditors.
     

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

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