Audit Quality and Auditor Reputation: Evidence from Japan

by Douglas J. Skinner & Suraj Srinivasan

Overview — High-quality external auditing is a central component of sound corporate governance, yet what determines audit quality? Douglas J. Skinner, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Suraj Srinivasan, of Harvard Business School, study the Japanese audit market, where recent events provide a powerful setting for investigating the effect of auditor reputation on audit quality absent litigation effects. Specifically, Skinner and Srinivasan analyze events surrounding the collapse of ChuoAoyama, the PricewaterhouseCoopers affiliate in Japan that was implicated in a massive accounting fraud at Kanebo, a large Japanese cosmetics company. Taken as a whole, the researchers' evidence provides support for the view that auditor reputation is important in an economy where the legal system does not provide incentives for auditors to deliver quality. Key concepts include:

  • Auditors' reputation for delivering quality is extremely important. A substantial number of clients dropped ChuoAoyama as the extent of its audit quality problems became apparent, but before it became clear that the firm would be forced out of business.
  • The events at ChuoAoyama and particularly the decision by the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA) to suspend the firm's operations can be seen as a watershed event in Japanese audit practice. The FSA used these events to send a message to the Japanese auditing community that the old ways of doing business would no longer be tolerated, and that it was serious about reforming audit practice.

Author Abstract

We study events surrounding ChuoAoyama's failed audit of Kanebo, a large Japanese cosmetics company whose management engaged in a massive accounting fraud. ChuoAoyama was PwC's Japanese affiliate and one of Japan's "Big Four" audit firms. In May 2006, the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA) suspended ChuoAoyama's operations for two months as punishment for its role in the accounting fraud at Kanebo. This action was unprecedented, and followed a sequence of events that seriously damaged ChuoAoyama's reputation for audit quality. We use these events to provide evidence on the importance of auditors' reputation for audit quality in a setting where litigation plays essentially no role. We find that ChuoAoyama's audit clients switched away from the firm as questions about its audit quality became more pronounced but before it was clear that the firm would be wound up, consistent with the importance of auditors' reputation for delivering quality. 58 pages.

Paper Information