Audit quality can be improved by relatively minor interventions
Audit quality can be improved by giving difficult audit tasks more priority, promoting learning and innovation and a different mindset towards new technologies in auditing. This emerges from three studies by PhD student Christian Peters, which he will defend on Tuesday June 13, at Tilburg University.
In the past decade, there has been a lot of criticism on the auditing profession. This criticism stems from accounting scandals and the often-associated failures of auditors, such as the failure of Arthur Andersen in auditing Enron or the failure of EY in auditing Wirecard. This raises the question of what leads to high-quality audits.
The detected failures often stem from evaluations and decisions involving a lack of professional skepticism, a lack of independence, or taking the path of least resistance. PhD candidate Christian Peters the Tilburg School of Economics and Management therefore investigated the evaluations and decisions made by individual accountants and the operational factors in accounting organizations that play a role in them. These form some of the microfoundations of audit quality.
First, Peters investigated which audit tasks accountants prioritize and which ones they postpone. This is important because an audit often takes place under time pressure. As a result, tasks are sometimes not fully completed, or in some cases even documented away. Together with his supervisor Bart Dierynck, he demonstrated through an experiment that accountants are more inclined to prioritize easy audit tasks and postpone difficult tasks, or not complete the latter entirely. This has a negative effect on audit quality.
Together with his supervisors Bart Dierynck and Kathryn Kadous, Peters conducted a literature review on how accountants learn within accounting organizations. Recent analyses of the accounting profession indicate that the technocratic aspects of the profession often hinder learning and innovation. Peters developed a framework and made suggestions on how audit organizations can promote learning, such as incorporating moments of reflection in the audits and training accountants to think in specific knowledge structures.
Critical mindset towards new technologies
Last, Peters investigated how skeptical accountants are of new technologies used during audits, such as artificial intelligence. An experiment with accountants shows that accountants are less critical of structured audit tasks when they are performed by technology than when they are performed by a colleague. The research also shows that an intervention focused on a mindset characterized by generating counter-argumentation can reduce the negative effect of technology on the professional skepticism of auditors.
Inspections by international regulators of accounting organizations show that a lack of professional skepticism is often a reason for deficiencies in audit quality.
Christian Peters MSc will defend his dissertation on Tuesday 13 June, 14.00 hrs in Tilburg University’s Auditorium. Title dissertation: The Microfoundations of Audit Quality. Supervisors: Prof. B.C.G. Dierynck, Prof. K. Kadous. The defense will also be livestreamed.