Is Audit Committee Equity Compensation Related to Audit Fees?
47 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2020 Last revised: 14 Apr 2022
Date Written: June 23, 2020
Section 301 of SOX implicitly assumes that audit committees can independently determine audit fees. Critics of Section 301 have questioned this assumption, in particular, and the efficacy of Section 301, more generally. In response, the SEC issued a concept release in 2015 calling for public disclosure of the process that audit committees follow for determining auditor compensation. Motivated by these calls and the widespread use of stocks and options to compensate firms’ independent directors, we examine the relation between equity compensation granted to audit committee members and audit fees. Using a sample of 3,685 firm-year observations during 2007-2015, we find a negative relation between audit committee equity compensation and audit fees, consistent with larger equity pay inducing audit committee members to compromise independence by paying lower audit fees. These findings are robust to controlling for endogeneity, firm size, alternative measures of equity compensation, alternative samples, and an alternative treatment of extreme values. We further show that larger equity compensation is associated with lower earnings quality. We also find that the negative effect of equity compensation on audit fees is stronger when city-level audit market competition is high. However, this negative relation disappears when (1) firms face high litigation risk, (2) auditors have stronger bargaining power, (3) the audit committee includes a high proportion of accounting experts, and (4) auditors are industry experts. Our results are relevant to regulators and investors.
Keywords: Audit committee, Audit fees, Auditor independence, Equity compensation
JEL Classification: M41, G14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation