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    Audit Partner Tenure and Audit Quality
    research summary posted May 7, 2012 by The Auditing Section, last edited June 21, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 04.0 Independence and Ethics, 04.07 Audit Firm Rotation, 05.0 Audit Team Composition, 05.03 Partner Rotation, 15.0 International Matters, 15.03 Audit Partner Rotation 
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    Title:
    Audit Partner Tenure and Audit Quality
    Practical Implications:

    The results of this study are limited to the debate concerning individual audit partner rotation and do not support the argument for, or negate the prior studies that examine, audit firm rotation.  Combining the results of this study with the prior studies suggests that audit firms develop, over time, client and industry-specific knowledge that increases their ability to provide quality audits, and if quality control procedures within the firm are adequate (such as might be expected at a Big 6 firm), then rotating audit partners periodically helps maintain the auditor’s independence and objectivity while minimizing the loss of client-specific knowledge and rtise.

    Citation:

    Carey, P. and R. Simnett 2006. Audit Partner Tenure and Audit Quality. The Accounting Review 81 (3): 653-676.

    Keywords:
    audit partner tenure; audit quality; qualifications; earnings management
    Purpose of the Study:

    For many years, regulators have expressed concern regarding auditors’ extended associations with particular audit clients (i.e., long auditor tenure) and its potential impact on auditors’ independence and objectivity.  In the U.S., the AICPA Practice Section mandated in the 1970’s that audit partners rotate off their client after a seven year period.  The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 decreased this period to five years for public company engagements.  Outside the U.S., countries following international accounting standards and the Code of Ethics implemented by the International Federation of Accountants, as well as the United Kingdom and Australia, adopted similar standards by the early 2000’s due to the perceived “familiarity threat” associated with long auditor tenure.  Two of the arguments for mandatory rotation are that long auditor tenure 1) results in personal relationships with the client that could impair, consciously or subconsciously, the auditor’s independence, and 2) weakens the auditor’s ability to critically evaluate the client’s assertions.  However, to date, there is little empirical evidence to support these
    arguments.

    Due to data limitations, previous studies examining auditor tenure tend to focus on tenure of the audit firm as a whole.  Contrary to regulators’ perceptions, those studies tend to find that audit quality actually deteriorates in the early years after a change in the client’s audit firm, which is attributed to the “learning curve” effect, and that higher audit quality is associated with longer audit firm tenure, which is consistent with the audit firm developing more knowledge and familiarity with the client and industry as time progresses.  Based on their actions, regulators appear convinced that the potential benefits associated with auditor rotation are greater than the potential risks.  Therefore, the purpose of this study is to further examine whether long auditor tenure contributes to decreased audit quality in a setting where individual audit partners can be identified for particular audit clients.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors rely on data for Australian-domiciled companies publicly traded on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1995.  The authors accumulate auditor tenure information through 1997.

    The authors proxy for audit quality using three different measures: 1) the auditor’s propensity to issue a going-concern opinion; 2) the client’s reporting of abnormal working capital accruals; and 3) the extent to which key earnings targets are just beaten or missed.  Using the results of prior studies and the arguments and policies provided by regulators, the authors examine the association between audit quality and three measures of auditor tenure: less than two years, three to seven years, and greater than seven years.

    Findings:
    • For going-concern opinions, the authors find that longer audit partner tenures do decrease the individual auditors’ propensity to issue such an opinion.  Sensitivity analyses for this test suggest that these results are driven by non-Big 6 audit firm partners.
    • The results of this study find no association between abnormal working capital accruals and longer audit partner tenure. 
      These findings are in contrast to a prior study that examines the Taiwanese market and does find some support for an increased association between abnormal accruals (i.e., lower earnings quality) and longer auditor tenures,
    • The results show limited evidence of fewer clients just missing earnings benchmarks (i.e., more clients beating earnings benchmarks) in cases where the audit partner has longer tenure at the client.
    Category:
    Independence & Ethics, Audit Team Composition, International Matters
    Sub-category:
    Audit Firm Rotation, Partner Rotation, Audit Partner Rotation, Audit Firm Rotation
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