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    Discussion of “Does the Identity of Engagement Partners M...
    research summary posted January 20, 2016 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.02 Changes in Audit Standards, 01.03 Impact of New Accounting Pronouncements, 05.0 Audit Team Composition, 05.05 Diversity of Skill Sets e.g., Tenure and Experience, 12.0 Accountants’ Reports and Reporting, 12.01 Going Concern Decisions, 15.0 International Matters, 15.01 Audit Partner Identification by Name 
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    Title:
    Discussion of “Does the Identity of Engagement Partners Matter? An Analysis of Audit Partner Reporting Decisions”.
    Practical Implications:

    This discussion emphasizes significant caution when interpreting the results of the study. Mainly, it is unclear if results of the study can generalize to the broader public company market in the US. Furthermore, if the results are misinterpreted (i.e., individual auditors are not systematically aggressive but, instead, high quality auditors are systematically assigned the riskiest clients) then regulation requiring audit partner identification could actually have overall negative effects on overall audit quality.

    Citation:

    Kinney, W.R. 2015. Discussion of “Does the Identity of Engagement Partners Matter? An Analysis of Audit Partner Reporting Decisions”. Contemporary Accounting Research 32 (4):1479-1488.

    Keywords:
    auditor attributes, reporting style, auditor identification, audit quality, going concern opinion, Type I error, Type II error, credit risk, insolvency risks, statutory audits
    Purpose of the Study:

    The author reviews the paper's content, analyzes its predictive validity, and discusses its multiple implications. He provides constructive suggestions for improvements. Based on predictive validity analysis, the author concludes that engagement partner assignment strategy is an important and acknowledged omitted variable that affects the study's internal validity via both the independent variable (partner's prior performance measure) and the dependent variable (borrower's cost of debt capital). The omission also affects construct validities and, if audit firms are applying a plausible assignment strategy, then interpretation of the study's main results would be reversed. Finally, the lack of a standards intervention noted by the authors and the extreme size and other differences between audits of Swedish private companies and U.S. public companies impair external validity and generalization to the U.S. intervention.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    This article is a discussion.

    Findings:

    The discussion emphasizes the following points:

    • KVZ (the reviewed paper’s authors Knechel, Vanstraelen and Zerni) main analyses are for statutory (not financial statement) audits of small, private, Swedish companies. Therefore, these results may have more limited generalizability. 
    • KVZ use publically available data for private companies without considering the significant amount of private information available to private lenders and audit firms.
    • KVZ acknowledge and cannot rule out a potential competing hypothesis whereby audit firms follow a “best partner to riskiest engagements” strategy. In this case, the highest quality partners may appear to have the most aggressive reporting strategy because that partner serves riskier clients with harder to predict bankruptcy risk. To confirm/disconfirm this competing hypothesis occurs, KVZ could ask audit firm management to describe their audit partner assignment strategies and rank a sample of partners accordingly. This information could be correlated with KVZ’s reporting style measures.    
    • Regulators, academics, and popular/business press articles may be similarly over-generalizing KVZ’s results. Furthermore, misinterpretation of results could have the ill-effects of high quality audit partners being assessed as low quality. This false characterization may lead high quality auditors to refuse to audit riskier clients where their skills are most needed. As such, any interpretations of KVZ’s results should proceed with much caution.
    Category:
    Accountants' Reporting, Audit Team Composition, International Matters, Standard Setting
    Sub-category:
    Audit Partner Identification by Name, Changes in Audit Standards, Diversity of Skill Sets (e.g. Tenure & Experience), Going Concern Decisions, Impact of New Accounting Pronouncements