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    Audit Firm Tenure, Non-Audit Services, and Internal...
    research summary posted September 15, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.03 Non-Audit Services, 04.07 Audit Firm Rotation, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control, 11.08 Proxies for Audit Quality 
    Audit Firm Tenure, Non-Audit Services, and Internal Assessments of Audit Quality.
    Practical Implications:

    In first-year audits, lower audit process quality and higher total audit hours are possible additional costs that should be considered in the ongoing debate on mandatory audit firm rotation. Moreover, study results are consistent with the notion thateven prior to the effective date of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)market and related regulatory forces disciplined auditors of public entities to achieve a high level of audit quality when tenure was long or fees from auditor-provided non-audit services were large. In order to serve the public interest, these considerations should be included in assessments of the economic costs and benefits of restrictions on audit firm tenure and non-audit services.

    Furthermore, the results suggest that, in the private-client market, audit process quality declines in the long tenure range and when non-audit fees become large, which may be of interest to standard setters in the private sector (e.g., the Auditing Standards Board and US State Boards of Accountancy).


    Bell, T.B., M. Causholli, and W.R. Knechel. 2015. Audit Firm Tenure, Non-Audit Services, and Internal Assessments of Audit Quality. Journal of Accounting Research 53(3):461-509.

    audit quality, audit firm tenure, non-audit services
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study asks whether audit quality declines when audit firm tenure becomes long or when fees from auditor-provided non-audit services become large. The financial crisis of 2008 reignited a long standing debate on the impact of audit firm tenure and auditor-provided non-audit services on audit quality. Prior literature examining effects of audit firm tenure and non-audit services on audit quality have had to use externally observable proxies for audit quality which are, therefore, indirect measures of audit-related outcomes that may not fully reflect the quality of auditors’ execution of the audit process. However, regulators focus on process-related characteristics of audit quality including (1) the extent and appropriateness of evidence supporting the auditor’s opinion and (2) the degree of correspondence between the auditor’s procedures and auditing standards. Therefore there may be a difference between indirect external proxies for audit quality and audit quality proxies actually used by regulators. This study assesses audit quality using direct assessments of attributes of the audit process made by internal reviewers at a large international audit firm in 265 US audits of publicly and privately held clients. Primary analyses are based on two quality measures developed from the review data: 1) the total number of assessed audit deficiencies across 55 separate audit process activities; and 2) a composite assessment of the overall quality of the audit.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The data set used in this research was obtained from a large international accounting firm by one of the authors who was employed by the firm at the time the data were collected. The author developed a questionnaire to gather information during the reviews on various audit fee, production, and other engagement characteristics. The data were gathered in October 2003.

    • Audit quality is lowest in first-year audits, improves shortly thereafter, and then declines somewhat as audit firm tenure becomes long. The decline in quality in the long-tenure range is attributable to audits of private clients.
    • In public-client audits, quality increases slowly over the entire tenure range and is not significantly higher than in a first-year audit until the longest period where tenure exceeds 13 years.
    • In contrast, quality in private-client audits improves quickly after the first year but declines with very long tenure to the point where it is indistinguishable from audit quality in the first year.
    • Audit quality is not associated with non-audit fees in the full sample but, as above, the public- and private-client subsamples exhibit different patterns of association. The association of audit quality with non-audit fees is positive in audits of public clients and negative in the audits of private clients.
    • For public clients, the probability of a high-quality audit is 7 percentage points higher for clients purchasing non-audit services than for clients not purchasing these services.
    • For private clients, the probability of a high-quality audit of a private client purchasing non-audit services is 18 percentage points lower than for those not purchasing non-audit services.
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Independence & Ethics
    Audit Firm Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation, Non-audit Services, Proxies for Audit Quality