A Question of Ambiguity, Risk, and Trust: Do Auditors React Differently to Potential Accrual Transaction Earnings Management than to Potential Real Transaction Earnings Management?
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This research uses a 2x2 experiment to investigate auditor reaction to ambiguity and litigation risk. The first factor, ambiguity is operationalized as auditor reaction to potential real transaction earnings management (low ambiguity) and potential accrual transaction earnings management (high ambiguity). The second factor, litigation risk is operationalized through an income increasing (high) or income decreasing (low) earnings management attempt. Auditors were given company background information, selected account information, and comparative financial statements and then asked to state the likelihood of material misstatement in the financial statements as a whole and the sales, selling and marketing expenses, research and development expenses, and general and administrative expenses individual accounts. The ambiguity manipulation was imbedded in the description of the research and development account while the litigation risk factor was imbedded in the comparative financial statements.
The findings indicate that the subjects reported a relatively high likelihood of material misstatement of research and development expenses regardless of the earnings management method. The findings further indicate that when a real earnings management transaction was present, auditors rated the likelihood of material misstatement in sales and the financial statements as a whole higher than when an accrual earnings management transaction is present. Additionally, when the subject group is limited to individuals working for Big-4 and National non Big-4 firms the auditors assessed the likelihood of material misstatement in the financial statements as a whole, sales, selling and marketing expenses, and general and administrative expenses significantly higher when a real earnings management transaction is present than when an accrual earnings management transaction is present. The lawsuit risk factor was not found to be significant in any of the primary analyses.
The research also explores the relationship between an auditorâ s trust of the client and the likelihood of material misstatement assessment. Auditors completed the Kerler and Killough trust scale to measure trust of the experimental client. The findings report that as external auditor experience increases, auditor trust of the client decreases. However, this decrease in trust does not significantly affect the likelihood of material misstatement assessment.
This research study is the first step in developing an understanding of the relationship between ambiguity, risk, trust, and auditor decision-making. The findings indicate that auditors do use information about potential earnings management in one account when evaluating the likelihood of material misstatements in other accounts. Future research should develop an understanding about whether auditors should take these factors into consideration in the planning stages of the audit.
- Doctoral Dissertations