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    Chief Audit Executives’ Evaluations of Whistle-Blowing A...
    research summary posted October 24, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.05 Impact of SOX, 12.0 Accountants’ Reports and Reporting, 12.04 Investigations, 13.0 Governance, 13.07 Internal auditor role and involvement in controls and reporting 
    Chief Audit Executives’ Evaluations of Whistle-Blowing Allegations
    Practical Implications:

    The findings of this study should be of interest to boards of directors, audit committees, and senior management who are accountable to investors and other parties for the timely and unbiased examination of whistle-blowing allegations. Prior research has shown that audit committee members can be biased in their evaluations of whistle-blower allegations and in the allocation of resources to investigate those allegations. However, the results of this study show that CAEs do not exhibit the same bias as audit committee members for allocating resources to investigate whistle-blower allegations. The audit committee often relies on the CAE to investigate whistle-blowing reports, and this study suggests that CAEs may be a better choice for managing the evaluation of whistle-blowing allegations relative to members of the audit committee. CAEs’ decisions are not shrouded in secrecy, and CAEs report to both management and the audit committee, creating multiple levels of accountability. They are less able to ignore allegations that pose personal threats than are directors.


    Guthrie, C. P., C. S. Norman, and J. M. Rose. 2012. Chief Audit Executives’ Evaluations of Whistle-Blowing Allegations. Behavioral Research in Accounting 24(2): 87-99.

    Chief audit executive; internal controls; whistle-blowing.
    Purpose of the Study:

    Section 301(4) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) requires that public companies establish procedures for receiving and reviewing complaints regarding accounting and controls, and SOX requires firms to establish a confidential and anonymous channel for reporting such complaints. Prior research has shown that audit committee members evaluate anonymous whistle-blower allegations as less credible than non-anonymous allegations. Additionally, prior research has shown that when whistle-blowing allegations threaten the reputations of corporate directors, the directors justify decisions to limit the investigation of allegations by ascribing low levels of credibility to the allegation. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate how Chief Audit Executives (CAE) evaluate whistle-blowing allegations and whether CAEs are subject to the same judgment biases that audit committee members exhibit. The authors studied CAE credibility assessments of:

    • Anonymous vs. non-anonymous whistle-blower allegations.
    • Whistle-blower allegations that threaten the reputations of the CAE.

    The authors also evaluated the amount of resources that CAEs planned to allocate to investigate these whistle-blower allegation reports.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors conducted an experiment that took place sometime before March 2012 with CAEs and deputy CAEs from both public and private companies. The participants had an average of 12.76 years of internal audit experience. About 60 percent of the participants were CPAs and about 50 percent of the participants were CIAs. The participants read a case in which they were informed of a whistle-blower allegation that management of the organization had committed fraud, and the participants then assessed the credibility of the allegation and allocated resources to investigate the claim. 

    • The CAEs ascribed a lower level of credibility to anonymous whistle-blowing reports relative to non-anonymous reports.
    • When the allegations threatened their reputations (meaning that the whistle-blowing reports suggested the wrongdoing was perpetrated by the exploitation of weaknesses in previously evaluated internal controls rather than by the circumvention of internal controls) CAEs further lowered their assessed credibility of the allegations.
    • CAE perceptions of lower credibility for allegations that threatened their reputations did not lead the CAEs to make smaller allocations of resources to investigating these allegations. In fact, the CAEs allocated more resources to allegations for which they would be held more responsible.
    Accountants' Reporting, Governance, Standard Setting
    Impact of SOX, Internal auditor role and involvement in controls and reporting, Investigations