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    Audit Firm Tenure, Non-Audit Services, and Internal...
    research summary posted July 22, 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, 11.07 Attempts to Measure Audit Quality 
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    Title:
    Audit Firm Tenure, Non-Audit Services, and Internal Assessments of Audit Quality.
    Practical Implications:

    The lower quality and higher effort associated with first-year audits represent additional costs that should be considered in the ongoing debate on mandatory audit firm rotation. The differential findings for private and public clients suggest that market and related regulatory forces discipline auditors of SEC clients to maintain a high level of audit quality even when tenure is long or NAS fees are high. The findings are important for regulatory policies related to audit firm tenure and auditor-provided NAS. The finding that quality declines in private-client audits as NAS fees increase or tenure becomes long should be of interest to standard setters in the private sector.

    Citation:

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

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

    After decades of debate and research, the auditing profession, regulators, and researchers continue to wrestle with two longstanding concerns about perceived threats to auditor independence and audit quality: (1) Social bondingbecoming personally friendly with, or increasingly trusting of, client management, and (2) Economic bondingbecoming financially dependent on multiperiod fees from audits and non-audit services (NAS) provided to the client. Regulators have argued that social bonding from long tenure erodes professional skepticism and induces auditor complacency, while economic bonding from non-audit fees prompts auditor concessions or shirking in response to management’s financial reporting demands. On the other hand, the auditing profession has argued that there is no systemic decline in audit quality as audit firm tenure or fees from NAS increase, and that restrictions on tenure or NAS disrupt auditor learning, constrain the financial and human resources available for audit production, and impede knowledge spillovers.

    The authors use data from internal assessments of audit quality in a Big 4 firm to investigate the impact of audit firm tenure and auditor-provided non-audit services (NAS) on audit quality.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The data used in this study consists of audit quality assessments, audit firm tenure, audit and NAS fees, total and staff-level audit labor hours, and other key client and engagement characteristics for 265 U.S. audits conducted by a Big 4 firm for both publicly listed (57%) and privately held (43%) clients. Audit firm personnel collected the data during the annual internal quality reviews performed during late spring through early fall of 2003.

    Findings:
    • Audit quality is lowest in first-year audits, improves shortly thereafter, and declines somewhat as tenure becomes very long.
    • The probability that a second-, third-, or fourth-year audit receives a high quality rating is, on average, 21 percentage points higher than the probability for a first-year audit, while audit quality for audits where tenure is greater than 13 years is not significantly different from that of a first-year audit.
    • Audit effort is significantly higher in first-year audits in spite of discounted fees.
    • In audits of SEC registrants, quality increases slowly over the entire tenure range, while audits of private clients exhibit a rapid increase in quality in early years and an equally steep decline in later years.
    • Audit partner specialization in the client’s industry is associated with higher audit quality in both the full sample and in first-year audits. For SEC clients, the authors also find that audit quality and audit effort each are positively associated with discretionary accruals (DAs), suggesting that auditors recognize the risks associated with unusual accruals and respond by conducting more effective procedures.
    • When ex-Andersen clients are removed from the sample, the authors no longer observe lower audit quality in first year audits.
    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Independence & Ethics
    Sub-category:
    Attempts to Measure Audit Quality, Audit Firm Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation, Non-audit Services