Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 24 No. 2 (Spring 2010)


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Corporate Audits and How to Fix Them

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Ronen, Joshua. 2010. "Corporate Audits and How to Fix Them." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24(2): 189-210.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.2.189


Auditors are supposed to be watchdogs, but in the last decade or so, they sometimes looked like lapdogs -- more interested in serving the companies they audited than in assuring a flow of accurate information to investors. The auditing profession is based on what looks like a structural infirmity: auditors are paid by the companies they audit. An old German proverb holds: "Whose bread I eat, his song I sing." While this saying was originally meant as a prayer of thanksgiving, the old proverb takes on a darker meaning for those who study the auditing profession. This paper begins with an overview of the practice of audits, the auditing profession, and the problems that auditors continue to face in terms not only of providing audits of high quality, but also in providing audits that investors feel comfortable trusting to be of high quality. It then turns to a number of reforms that have been proposed, including ways of building reputation, liability reform, capitalizing or insuring auditing firms, and greater competition in the auditing profession. However, none of these suggested reforms, individually or collectively, severs the agency relation between the client management and the auditors. As a result, the conflict of interest, although it can be mitigated by some of these reforms, continues to threaten auditors' independence, both real and perceived. In conclusion, I'll discuss my own proposal for financial statements insurance, which would redefine the relationship between auditors and firms in such a way that auditors would no longer be beholden to management.

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Ronen, Joshua (NYU)

JEL Classifications

G32: Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure
L84: Personal, Professional, and Business Services
M42: Auditing


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