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Can Auditors be Independent? Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Client Type

Christopher Koch, Martin Weber and Jens Wüstemann

European Accounting Review, 2012, vol. 21, issue 4, 797-823

Abstract: Recent regulatory initiatives stress that an independent oversight board, rather than the management board, should assume the role of auditors' client. In an experiment, we test whether the type of client affects auditors' independence. Unique features of the German institutional setting enable us to realistically vary the type of auditors' client as our treatment variable: we portray the client either as the management preferring aggressive accounting or the oversight board preferring conservative accounting. We measure auditors' perceived client retention incentives and accountability pressure in a post-experiment questionnaire to capture potential threats to independence. We find that the type of auditors' client affects auditors' behaviour contingent on the degree of the perceived threats to independence. Our findings imply that both client retention incentives and accountability pressure represent distinctive threats to auditors' independence and that the effectiveness of an oversight board in enhancing auditors' independence depends on the underlying threat.

Date: 2012
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