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    The Effects of Clients’ Controversial Activities on Audit P...
    research summary posted October 20, 2014 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, last edited October 20, 2014, tagged 02.0 Client Acceptance and Continuance, 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 02.02 Client Risk Assessment, 02.05 Business Risk Assessment - e.g., industry, IPO, complexity, 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.04 Management Integrity, 06.06 Earnings Management 
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    Title:
    The Effects of Clients’ Controversial Activities on Audit Pricing
    Practical Implications:

    We focus on the business risk associated with controversial corporate activities. By examining a wider range of controversial corporate activities, we are able to conduct a broader investigation into the association between auditor business risk and audit fees.  Our study finds that adverse social performance arising from controversial activities affects firms’ audit fees. Specifically, our results indicate that auditors charge fee premiums ranging from 5.4% to 13.2% for clients that are involved with controversial activities related to consumers, employees, the community, and the environment.  We also find that corporate controversial activities are associated with higher risks of financial misstatement and adverse financial performance.  These results provide triangulation on our inference that auditors’ raise their assessment of clients’ business risks when their clients are involved in controversial activities, and charge such clients higher audit fees.  

     

    For more information on this study, please contact Kevin Koh.

    Citation:

    Koh, K. and Y. H. Tong. 2013. The Effects of Clients’ Controversial Activities on Audit Pricing. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 32 (2): 67-96.

    Keywords:
    audit fees; audit pricing; corporate social responsibility (CSR); controversial corporate activities; business risk; financial misstatement
    Purpose of the Study:

    We examine the effects of clients’ involvement in controversial corporate activities on audit pricing. Clients’ involvement in controversial activities raises concerns about management integrity and ethics. Moreover, clients involved in such activities are perceived to have higher risk of adverse financial performance. As a result, there is greater potential for financial misstatement, which increases the auditor’s perceived business risk. We hypothesize that, given the higher perceived business risk, auditors charge higher fees to clients engaged in controversial activities. We also hypothesize that lower corporate social performance is associated with adverse financial performance as these clients can face public criticism, consumer boycotts, reputation loss, fines or other regulatory actions over their controversial activities. Adverse financial performance heightens managerial incentives to manage earnings, increasing the risk of financial misstatement.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    Our sample spans the period 2000 to 2010, as audit fee data are publicly available only as of 2000.  We obtain audit fee data from the Audit Analytics database and identify audit clients involved in controversial activities related to consumers, employees, the community, and the environment using a unique dataset from Kinder, Lydenberg, and Domini (KLD).   The KLD dataset is the most commonly used database for assessing corporate social performance. KLD rates each firm’s social actions along seven broad dimensions: consumer, employee, diversity, community, human rights, environment, and corporate governance. We use a regression model to examine the relation between controversial activities and audit fees. In order to examine the validity of our assumptions and to triangulate our results, we investigate the association between controversial activities and the risks of financial misstatement and adverse financial performance with regression models.   

    Findings:

    We find evidence consistent with audit firms charging higher audit fees to firms involved in controversial activities. Specifically, our results indicate that auditors charge fee premiums ranging from 5.4% to 13.2% for clients that are involved with controversial activities related to consumers, employees, the community, and the environment.  In comparison, in our sample, the Big 4 and industry-specialist audit fee premiums amount to 29.7% and 10.8%, respectively.  The fee premiums related to the various controversial activities thus appear to be economically significant. 

    We also find that clients involved in controversial activities report higher level of abnormal accruals and are more likely to be issued a going concern opinion compared to clients not involved in such activities. These results strengthen our inference that auditors raise their assessment of auditor business risk for clients engaged in controversial activities and charge higher audit fees.   

    Category:
    Client Acceptance and Continuance, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Sub-category:
    Audit Fee Decisions, Business Risk Assessment (e.g. industry - IPO - complexity), Client Risk Assessment, Earnings Management, Earnings Management, Management Integrity