Confidence in the financial reporting of established and emerging firms, the credibility of the audit function and perceptions of audit quality are critical to the success of the Australian economy, argue Professor Nonna Martinov-Bennie and Dr Alan Kilgore from IGAP, in an article published in the October 2012 edition of Think and Grow Rich.
Increased Scrutiny of Audit
In the wake of corporate collapses and the Global Financial Crisis, what actually constitutes a high quality audit has come under public and regulatory scrutiny. This has most recently taken form in the establishment of the Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession in the United States, and the release of key frameworks and documents internationally, including:
- the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB)’s consultation paper: A Framework for Audit Quality (2013);
- the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s Strategic Plan: Improving the Relevance and Quality of the Audit for the Protection and Benefit of Investors (2012);
- the European Commission’s (EC) Green Paper Audit Policy: Lessons from the Crisis (2010);
- Audit Quality in Australia – A Strategic Review (2010); and
- the Audit Quality Framework (2008) in the United Kingdom.
As Martinov-Bennie and Kilgore argue, the credibility of the audit function plays an important role in establishing and maintaining an effective and efficient capital market. There are public and private benefits to these efficiencies: the equitable distribution of investment gains; reliable financial statements that encourage a broader range of investors; and the potential for higher investment returns through reducing financial statement risk.
Key Audit Quality Attributes – The Audit Team
However, as highlighted in a recent study by Kilgore and colleagues, with representative users of audit services (audit committee members, financial analysts, and fund managers), perceptions of quality also play an important role in maintaining trust and credibility in the audit function.
The study established that factors relating to the audit team were perceived to be relatively more important than factors related to the audit firm. More specifically, perceptions of five key audit team attributes were found to be relatively more important than perceptions of audit firm attributes such as audit quality assurance review and audit firm industry experience; namely:
- the partner / manager attention to the audit
- the manager knowledge of the client industry;
- knowledge and experience of the audit team;
- communication between the audit team and client; and
- the partner knowledge of the client industry.
Only audit firm size was considered relatively more important than these five audit team attributes.
In another project, commissioned by Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Dr Kilgore, Prof Martinov-Bennie and Associate Professor Sue Wright are currently undertaking research on perceptions of audit quality among other stakeholders. Preliminary results suggest that while different stakeholder groups have different views, audit team characteristics remain important to perceptions of audit quality.
Implications and Future Research
The implications of these findings are important at both national and international levels for the audit profession, regulators, and standards setters, and for efforts aimed at improving the effectiveness and integrity of the audit process. These findings are particularly important for regulatory and professional accounting bodies working to improve audit quality, since they have tended to focus on audit firm factors, in lieu of (perceptions of) audit team expertise and experience. Combined, the findings suggest that not only do different stakeholders have different perceptions of the key drivers of audit quality, but also that audit quality is viewed by market participants as a multi-dimensional construct. In trying to better understand what makes a quality audit, we really need to know more about the people who actually perform them.