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    Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality?
    research summary posted October 20, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.02 Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management, 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.06 Earnings Management, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.06 Audit Fees and Fee Negotiations, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control 
    Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality?
    Practical Implications:

    The study provides useful insight into current regulatory debates on the auditor’s economic dependence on the client and increases understanding to the reasons why previous research provides mixed evidence on the association between various fee metrics and the extent of earnings management. If the association between abnormal fees and the magnitude of discretionary accruals is conditioned on the sign of abnormal fees, examining the association without reference to the sign of abnormal fees most likely leads to observations of insignificant associations, as also reported in most previous studies. This study’s findings suggest that future research on similar issues should take into account the asymmetric nonlinearity in the fee-quality relation.


    Choi, J. H., J. B. Kim, and Y. Zang. 2010. Do Abnormally High Audit Fees Impair Audit Quality? Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory 29 (2): 115-140.

    audit quality, abnormal audit fees, earnings management
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study examines whether the association between audit fees and audit quality is asymmetric and thus nonlinear in the sense that the association is conditioned upon the sign of abnormal audit fees. The authors define abnormal audit fees as the difference between actual audit fees (i.e., actual fees paid to auditors for their financial statement audits) and the expected, normal level of audit fees. Actual audit fees consist of two parts: (1) normal fees that reflect auditors’ effort costs, litigation risk, and normal profits, and (2) abnormal fees that are specific to an auditor-client relationship. Normal fees are mainly determined by factors that are common across different clients, such as client size, client complexity, and client-specific risk, while abnormal fees are determined by factors that are idiosyncratic to a specific auditor-client relationship. As noted by Kinney and Libby, abnormal fees “may more accurately be likened to attempted bribes” and can better capture economic rents associated with audit services or an auditor’s economic bond to a client than normal fees or actual fees.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors obtain audit and nonaudit fee data from the Compustat audit fees file and all other financial data from the Compustat Industrial Annual File. The sample period for this study is restricted to the four-year period from 2000 to 2003. The full sample consists of 9,815 firm-years over the four-year sample period. They also construct a reduced sample of 7,061 observations that meet the data requirements for computing two additional variables. 


    The regression results reveal the following:

    • The proxy for audit quality is insignificantly associated with abnormal audit fees for the total sample of client firms with both positive and negative abnormal audit fees.
    • When the authors split total observations into those with positive abnormal fees and those with negative abnormal fees, the results change dramatically.
    • When the abnormal fees are positive, the magnitude of absolute discretionary accruals (an inverse measure of audit quality) is positively associated with abnormal fees, suggesting a negative relation between audit quality and positive abnormal fees.
    • In contrast, the association is insignificant when the abnormal fees are negative.
    • These findings imply that positive and negative abnormal fees create different incentive effects, for clients with positive abnormal fees, auditors are more likely to acquiesce to client pressure as abnormal audit fees increase, whereas for clients with negative abnormal fees, auditors are unlikely to compromise audit quality.
    • In contrast to the findings on the asymmetric association between abnormal audit fees and audit quality, the authors find no significant, comparable relation when abnormal nonaudit service (NAS) fees or abnormal total fees are used as a measure of auditor-client economic bond in lieu of abnormal audit fees.
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Engagement Management, Independence & Ethics, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Audit Fees & Fee Negotiations, Earnings Management, Earnings Management, Impact of Fees on Decisions by Auditors & Management