Non-Audit Services and Financial Reporting Quality: Evidence from 1978-1980
Executive Summary — What are the costs and benefits of auditors providing non-audit services? In this paper, the authors investigate whether high non-audit services (NAS) fees relative to audit fees are associated with poor quality financial reporting. Associate Professor Suraj Srinivasan and colleagues look specifically at a sample of S&P 500 firms during the years 1978-80. The authors thus provide an early history analysis of a long-standing regulatory concern that NAS fees create an economic dependence that causes the auditor to acquiesce to the client's wishes in financial reporting, reducing the quality of the audit. This concern led the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to prohibit auditors from providing most consulting services. The authors find that, contrary to regulatory concerns, NAS are associated with better quality financial reporting: lower earnings management and higher earnings informativeness. Conclusions rely on the specific institutional features of the years 1978-80. Key concepts include:
- Providing NAS does not automatically lead to weaker audit quality.
- Greater information systems consulting fees are associated with higher quality financial reporting for various proxies of earnings quality.
- This area of consulting likely improved the audit firms' knowledge base, leading to improved audit quality.
- Evidence suggests that the market does not fear an increase in economic dependence from the non-disclosure of NAS.
We provide evidence on the long standing concern on auditor conflicts of interest from providing non-audit services (NAS) to audit clients by using rarely explored NAS fee data from 1978-80. Using this earlier setting, we find cross-sectional evidence of improved earnings quality when auditors provide NAS, especially those related to information services. This is consistent with better audit quality from knowledge spillovers due to the joint offering of audit and consulting services. Events related to the repeal of these NAS disclosures in 1982 are associated with a small positive stock price reaction suggesting no adverse economic consequences of withdrawing NAS disclosures. Further, following the repeal of disclosure requirements we find no change in the earnings quality of client firms. In sum, data drawn from an earlier time period suggest that auditors' reputational incentives, possible synergies and knowledge transfers imply that NAS offered by audit firms can be associated with improved audit and reporting quality in client firms.