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    A Field Survey of Contemporary Brainstorming Practices
    research summary posted February 20, 2017 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.02 Changes in Audit Standards, 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.01 Fraud Risk Assessment, 06.07 SAS No. 99 Brainstorming – process, 08.0 Auditing Procedures – Nature, Timing and Extent, 08.04 Auditors’ Professional Skepticism, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.03 Interaction among Team Members 
    A Field Survey of Contemporary Brainstorming Practices
    Practical Implications:

    Understanding that auditors allocate greater resources to fraud brainstorming when engagement risk is significant fosters brainstorming of a superior caliber corresponds to stronger regulatory compliance.  Auditors report that engagement teams are holding fraud brainstorming sessions earlier in the audit, document more detailed risk assessments, plan more specific procedures, and retain more documentation.  These characteristics contribute to adequately addressing increased PCAOB regulatory scrutiny.  Additionally, brainstorming sessions are highly regarded when they occur in a face-to-face fashion and are attended by multiple levels of firm personnel—whether that is “core” or “non-core” professionals.  Fraud brainstorming sessions are executed less mechanically (as determined by PCAOB inspectors) by using fewer checklists and increase the amount of time auditors prepare for brainstorming sessions.  


    Dennis, S. A., and K. M. Johnstone. 2016. A Field Survey of Contemporary Brainstorming Practices. Accounting Horizons 30 (4): 449–472. 

    audit planning; engagement risk; field survey; fraud brainstorming; professional skepticism
    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this study is to further understand current fraud brainstorming practices minding regulatory climate and its impression of brainstorming practices.  The authors seek to understand the auditing profession’s existing framework to effectively brainstorm by evaluating audit team characteristics; attendance and communication; structure, timing, effort; and brainstorming quality.  Fraud brainstorming environment is considered with respect to client characteristics; particularly, inherent, fraud, and engagement risks, and if the client is publicly traded or privately held.  The authors refer to the characteristics as “partitions”.  The partitions allow the study to better examine how each characteristic effects the deployment of resources in response to risk levels and trading status. 

                The study poses further exploration into the implementation of Statement of Auditing Standards No. 99 and its effect on fraud brainstorming practices.  Particularly addressing the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s report suggesting auditing professionals were “mechanically” addressing fraud-related auditing standards.  SAS 99 sought to blend experienced audit professionals—those with greater client experience—with less-seasoned auditors to brainstorm how a fraud could occur specific to the client.  As part of the brainstorming framework, the study seeks to understand if senior-level auditors (partners and managers) and seniors and staff members, along with “non-core” professionals, cultivate meaningful brainstorming sessions. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors collected field data from audits conducted between March 2013 and January 2014, per a survey of 77 audit engagements.  Information pertaining to the client, audit team, and brainstorming sessions were called upon in the survey.  The majority (93 percent) of observations were obtained by two Big 4 firms—7 percent from one non-Big 4 global firm.  Each engagement’s partner received instructions for the distribution of the survey to lead managers and lead seniors on the respective engagement while the partner withheld that the survey was for research purposes.  A total of 75 managers and 73 seniors participated.  

    • Surveyed auditors rarely interacted with engagements where fraud in financial reporting was identified.
    • When fraud risk and inherent risk are both elevated for a particular engagement, perceived professional skepticism is also elevated.
    • Risk-based resource deployment is consistent when considering high- versus low-risk clients—particularly, when inherent risk is elevated, audit team size is also greater.
    • Public clients cultivate larger audit teams where managers and seniors have more client experience.
    • With respect to contributions made at brainstorming sessions, the audit partner and manager make the greatest contributions along with forensic specialists and audit seniors.  Interestingly, when fraud brainstorming is more important with respect to the engagement, seniors make lower relative contributions. 
    • Media richness theory is robustly at work with respect to attendance patterns at brainstorming sessions.  Specifically, when engagement risk is elevated, staff and seniors are more likely to attend face-to-face. 
    • Fraud brainstorming sessions are most commonly open-discussion (86 percent) where the session is held during the planning stage of the engagement (87 percent).
    • Results propose that audit partners are open-minded to suggestions made during fraud brainstorming.
    • Fraud risk assessments appear to be independent from brainstorming tactics; however, when inherent risk is elevated and if the client is public versus private, audit teams exert more effort.  
    Auditing Procedures - Nature - Timing and Extent, Engagement Management, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk, Standard Setting
    Auditors’ Professional Skepticism, Changes in Audit Standards, Fraud Risk Assessment, Interaction among Team Members, SAS No. 99 Brainstorming – process