Can Auditors Be Independent? - Experimental Evidence
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has transformed the institutional environment in the US by making the audit committee responsible for the appointment, compensation and oversight of the auditor. We examine whether this institutional change successfully resolves the alleged problem of an unconscious favoring of the management (Bazerman et al. 1997, 2002, 2006) by changing the effects of auditors’ economic incentives and psychological pressure. In our experimental design, we make use of the particular features of the German institutional setting as it enables us to manipulate the client of the auditor in a realistic and clear-cut way. 72 German auditors with at least two years of job experience participated in our experiment. Following Turner (2001), we distinguish in our analyses between belief tasks (e.g. evidence evaluation) and action tasks (e.g. audit opinion). Our findings imply that certain institutional features seem to be helpful in ensuring auditor independence. First, we find that auditors demonstrate professional scepticism in belief tasks. This seems to counteract any potentially negative effect of the acceptability heuristic in actions tasks. Second, experience helped auditors in coping with psychological pressure. Third, making the auditor accountable to a supervisory board was helpful in reducing the risk that financial considerations would impair auditor independence.
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