How do Auditors Move from Skeptical Judgment to Skeptical Action? A Field Study

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Professional skepticism is clearly an important and timely topic in the practice and regulation of auditing. Insights into auditor efficacy associated with skeptical action may be gained by applying a seminal theory of behavior and action, Bandura’s self-efficacy construct within Social Cognitive Theory, within the audit context. This study uses a multiple-interview design to explore the exercise of professional skepticism in the field by eight experienced auditors. An auditor who is skeptical about the facts and circumstances of a client may not always manifest that skeptical judgment as skeptical action. The analysis specifically examines when and how skeptical judgments lead to skeptical actions. Our evidence suggests that the expected efficacy of skeptical actions is increased by the presence of three primary factors: (1) the support/collectivism within the audit team, (2) the preparation/homework of the auditor, and (3) the quality of the relationship with the client counterpart. These three themes are further illustrated by specific actions that can be taken by an auditor. The study contributes to our understanding of how auditors make decisions that influence skeptical actions during the course of the audit, the resources and strategies employed to do so, and the motivations that underlie skeptical actions.
Session presented at the 2019 American Accounting Association Auditing Section Midyear Meeting held in Nashville from January 18 – 19, 2019.
Auditors, Accounting firms, Auditor-client relationships, Auditors' reports, Interviewing in auditing, Skepticism