Effects of risk-based inspections on auditor behavior
Shefchik, Lori B.
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I examine how risk-based inspections influence auditor behavior in a multi-client setting. I conduct an experiment using an abstract setting that captures the theoretical constructs present in the audit ecology. I manipulate the presence of risk-based inspections between-participants and the level of client risk (higher vs. lower) within-participants. Consistent with the theoretical predictions, under conditions of high resource pressure, I find that auditor effort is higher under a regime with risk-based inspections as compared to a regime without inspections, and the auditor effort increases more for higher-risk clients than for lower-risk clients. More notably, following attentional control theory, I predict and find that risk-based inspections diminish the quality of auditor decision performance for lower-risk clients. Specifically, auditors' decision performance is worse (i.e., more suboptimal) for lower-risk clients than for higher-risk clients (ceteris paribus), but only under a risk-based inspections regime. Likewise, auditors' decision performance for lower-risk clients is worse in a regime with risk-based inspections than in a regime without inspections. I theorize that accountability pressures from PCAOB inspections combined with pressures from high resource constraints (that naturally occur in the audit environment) induce task-related anxiety on auditors. Following attentional control theory in a multi-task setting, I predict anxiety interrupts auditors' decision-making processing shifting attention toward higher-risk clients contributing to the anxiety, and away from lower-risk (untargeted) clients, thereby decreasing the quality of decision performance for lower-risk clients. I perform several supplemental analyses to test the underlying theory. First, I conduct a second experiment where auditors operate under relatively lower resource pressure and find that auditors’ decision performance is no longer worse for lower-risk clients in an inspections regime. The results support the theory that it is the combined pressures of inspections and high resource constraints causing the negative effects. Second, I conduct a supplemental experiment and measure participants' levels of anxiety. In support of the underlying theory, participants' reported anxiety levels are higher under a regime with versus without inspections. Third, I perform several robustness checks to rule out alternative explanations of the findings. The findings of this study contribute to the auditing literature, and they have practical and regulatory implications. First, by identifying higher auditor effort in a regime with inspections, I join others in documenting potential benefits of inspections on auditor behavior, and thus audit quality. Second, by examining the effect of risk-based inspections on auditor effort in a multi-task setting, I extend prior research by providing evidence that inspections increase auditor effort more for higher-risk clients than for lower-risk clients. Third, and most notably, by identifying diminished auditor decision performance for lower-risk clients under a risk-based inspections regime, this is the first study to provide theory and evidence on how risk-based inspections can lead to potential negative consequences on audit behavior, and thus audit quality.