The Choice between Audit and Consulting Services in the Post-SOX Environment
58 Pages Posted: 3 May 2013
Date Written: May 1, 2013
I examine factors influencing accounting firms’ and their clients’ decisions to pursue an auditing vs. consulting relationship. I employ the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX) prohibition on providing both services to the same clients as a natural experiment. Because Deloitte & Touche was the only Big 4 firm to retain its consulting division post-SOX, I compare Deloitte’s client switch and retention decisions to those made by its direct competitors. In this context, I investigate how the decision to continue or terminate an audit relationship is influenced by auditor industry specialization, the historical provision of auditor-provided consulting services and the likelihood that the client will require consulting services in the future. I find that there is a preference for auditing when the auditor is a specialist in the client's industry, and there is a preference for consulting when the auditor-provided consulting services in the past and the client is likely to require consulting services in the future (as proxied by high free cash flow, M&A activity, Debt and Equity issuance activity, and high growth opportunities). I also report empirical evidence on audit effectiveness and efficiency in cases where the auditor and its client discontinued the audit in order to maintain a consulting relationship. Although there was no impact on audit effectiveness, the auditor switches reduced efficiency as evidenced by significantly higher audit fees. This study is relevant to the current audit environment because public accounting firms that spun-off their consulting divisions around the enactment of SOX are in the process of rebuilding their consulting practices and must now choose between providing audit and consulting services to their clients. It may also be pertinent to European policy makers who are currently considering a proposal to limit auditors’ ability to jointly offer audit and consulting services to the same client.
Keywords: Auditor Provided Consulting Services, Sarbanes Oxley Act, Auditor Switches, Audit Fees, Audit Quality
JEL Classification: M41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation