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    An Examination of the Credence Attributes of an Audit
    research summary posted October 15, 2013 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 01.0 Standard Setting, 01.02 Changes in Audit Standards, 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind, 11.0 Audit Quality and Quality Control 
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    Title:
    An Examination of the Credence Attributes of an Audit
    Practical Implications:

    At its core, the theory proposed by the authors assumes that auditors are economic agents who provide a valuable service and can be expected to behave rationally to maximize their profits. Strategic behaviors such as under-auditing, over-auditing, or overbilling would be unobservable by an auditee in many instances. The possibility of such behaviors has important implications for the level of assurance over financial reports and can potentially affect the efficient allocation of capital resources. One of the goals of this study was to analyze how the credence aspect of audits could influence important policy decisions. Regulation may play a powerful role in mitigating the credence nature of auditing, e.g., PCAOB inspections. However, regulation can be a double-edged sword if it increases the incentive or opportunity for auditors to behave strategically. Therefore, auditors can take the theories and models presented in this study to evaluate their firms for potential profit maximizing biases that may negatively impact audit quality and efficiency. Policy makers could also use these theories and models to evaluate how new auditing policies might influence auditors’ incentives and behaviors.

    For more information on this study, please contact W. Robert Knechel.
     

    Citation:

    Causholli, M., and W. R. Knechel. 2012. An Examination of the Credence Attributes of an Audit. Accounting Horizons 26(4): 631-656.

    Keywords:
    Credence attributes; audit quality; audit efficiency.
    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this study was to expand the understanding of the economics of auditing and audit markets by using the theory of credence goods as the basis for explaining auditors’ incentives. The idea of a credence good or service is that (1) the seller of the good or service is an expert who both recommends and provides a level of service to the buyer; (2) buyers of credence goods or services cannot assess how a service is a delivered and must rely on a seller’s recommendation; and (3) buyers cannot assess how well the service was performed. The authors suggest that the external audit is a credence good which provides auditors with incentives to under-audit, over-audit or overcharge their clients.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors take a purely theoretical approach to study the perspective of an audit as a credence good. The authors rely on prior research of credence goods and on the principles of Game Theory to help explain auditors’ incentives to under-audit, over-audit or overcharge clients and predict auditors’ behaviors under certain scenarios. The authors use theoretical decision trees to describe an auditor’s possible strategies for bidding for an audit, and for executing the audit. The authors also describe examples of prior auditing research that present results that support the author’s credence theory.

    Findings:

        The authors propose that if an audit is a credence good, the auditee cannot determine any of the levels of audit effort that define the auditor’s decisions. This creates information asymmetry between the auditor and auditee both before and after the audit because the auditee cannot be sure of the true level of assurance that is necessary before the audit, and the auditee cannot be sure of the true level of assurance that is gained as a consequence of the audit. The information asymmetry goes in favor of the auditor, who can act strategically to under-audit and earn greater profits because the auditee has imperfect information about the auditor’s work and the level of assurance gained by the auditor’s efforts.

     The authors also propose that there are disciplining mechanisms in the market for audit services that are in place to mitigate an auditor’s incentive to behave strategically such as an auditee’s direct knowledge, audit firm reputation and size, professional regulation, legal liability, and competition between audit firms. However, while these mechanisms may be in place, an auditor facing low penalties or risk of detection may be more likely to consider strategic actions. In environments with weak courts or regulation, auditors have more incentives to act strategically and expect to reap superior profits as a result. Similarly, changes in regulations or other structural changes in the audit market can induce changes in the incentives for auditors to behave strategically. Overall, disciplining mechanisms facilitate the operation of audit markets even though they may not completely resolve the information (credence) problem.
     

    Category:
    Audit Quality & Quality Control, Auditor Judgment, Standard Setting
    Sub-category:
    Changes in Audit Standards, Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind