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    How Do Auditors Weight Informal Contrary Advice? The Joint...
    research summary posted September 14, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.09 Impact of Consultation on Judgments, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind 
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    Title:
    How Do Auditors Weight Informal Contrary Advice? The Joint Influence of Advisor Social Bond and Advice Justifiability.
    Practical Implications:

    By treating worse justified advice as though it were better justified advice, auditors are likely to overestimate the defensibility of their conclusions that are based on this advice. It also is worrisome that specialists appear to defensively resist well-justified, contrary advice from stronger social bond advisors. In response to a stronger social bond advisor’s better justified advice, specialists assess advisor competence to be higher and they assess the advice itself to be of higher quality, but they assign relatively low weight to the advice. This inconsistency implies that specialists may have difficulty accepting good advice even when they recognize its high quality.

    Citation:

    Kadous, K., J. Leiby, and M. E. Peecher. 2013. How Do Auditors Weight Informal Contrary Advice? The Joint Influence of Advisor Social Bond and Advice Justifiability. Accounting Review 88 (6): 2061-2087.

    Keywords:
    advice, audit quality, auditor judgment, fair value, social bond, true heuristic
    Purpose of the Study:

    Auditors regularly seek informal advice, including additional information, recommendations, and alternative perspectives about their initial judgments, from other auditors. Audit firms encourage advice seeking to enhance professional skepticism and improve professional judgment. Existing theory and evidence provide contrasting viewpoints. On the one hand, auditors recognize that following contrary advice can enhance the justifiability, or defensibility, of their judgments on ill-structured audit tasks such as determining the acceptability of management’s accounting policies. On the other hand, people generally discount contrary advice in nonauditing contexts, and auditors are prone to motivated reasoning.

    The authors expect that auditors’ willingness to use contrary advice is a joint function of their social bond with their advisor and advice justifiability. Social bond refers to auditors’ subjective sense of interpersonal closeness or connectedness toward their advisor. The authors examine the influence of advice justifiability on advice weighting for three reasons.

    • The justifiability of a recommendation is a reasonable proxy for advice quality in the ill-structured tasks that auditors frequently encounter, such as assessing the reasonableness of a fair value.
    • A common explanation for individuals’ general tendency to discount advice in everyday contexts is that while they can easily access reasons for their own opinions, they have far less ability to access reasons for their advisor’s recommendations.
    • The authors examine the influence of advice justifiability across both weaker and stronger levels of advisor social bond because theory predicts an interaction of advice justifiability and social bond for auditors’ advice weighting.
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    88 audit seniors from a Big 4 firm completed the experimental task at a national training session. Their audit experience ranged from 30 to 96 months, with a mean (standard deviation) experience of 39 months (10 months). The evidence was gathered prior to August 2010.

    Findings:

    The authors find that non-specialist auditors rely on the predicted trust heuristic. When advice comes from a stronger social bond advisor, they weight it relatively heavily and do not differentiate better from worse justified advice. Non-specialists also fail to objectively assess the quality of advice, and they optimistically assess specific attributes of advice coming from stronger social bond advisors, inaccurately equating better and worse justified advice. They do this even though they are able to distinguish advice justifiability and weight the advice accordingly when it comes from a weaker social bond auditor.

    In contrast, specialists do not rely on a trust heuristic in weighting advice, but they weight advice inconsistently with their own assessments of its quality. Specialists put less weight on better justified advice despite assessing its quality to be higher when it comes from a stronger social bond advisor. This inconsistency appears defensive in nature. The authors find that contrary advice has promise for reducing auditors’ motivated reasoning in that auditors significantly weight it in each condition. Informal contrary advice helps auditors to see an alternative point of view.

    Category:
    Auditor Judgment
    Sub-category:
    Impact of Consultation on Judgments, Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind