Audit Firm Culture: Recent Developments and Trends in the Literature

55 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2020

See all articles by Cristina Thomas Alberti

Cristina Thomas Alberti

Babson College; Bentley University

Jean C. Bedard

Bentley University - Department of Accountancy

Olof Bik

Nyenrode Business Universiteit

Ann Vanstraelen

Maastricht University

Date Written: October 19, 2020


This paper synthesizes research on audit firm culture (AFC) over the past decade, reviewing recent developments in research on factors instilling culture in audit firms, and how culture influences audit quality and auditors’ work attitudes. We develop and apply a three-phase model based on prior research (e.g., Schein, 2017) and professional guidance (IAASB, 2014), which maps cultural embedding mechanisms (EMs, visible manifestations and organizational conditions to establish culture), perceptions of existing culture, and consequences of culture. Our synthesis shows that the culture of an audit firm is most oriented toward quality if leadership emphasizes professionalism over commercialism, promotes ethical judgments, and facilitates learning through systems, integration of specialists, and interpersonal interactions among auditors. The research cited shows strong influence on AFC of tone at the top set by leadership, as well as incentives in performance/reward systems. Studies we review generally imply continued concern for the influence of commercialism on AFC, but future research should investigate whether recent forces (i.e., pressure from regulators and efforts by the firms) have caused a cultural shift toward professionalism. We close by suggesting opportunities for future research that can strengthen understanding how AFC can be better managed by firms.

Keywords: Audit firm culture, audit quality, audit firm management, ethical culture, professionalism, learning culture

JEL Classification: M14, M42

Suggested Citation

Alberti, Cristina and Bedard, Jean C. and Bik, Olof and Vanstraelen, Ann, Audit Firm Culture: Recent Developments and Trends in the Literature (October 19, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Cristina Alberti

Babson College ( email )

231 Forest St.
Babson Park, MA 02457-0310
United States

Bentley University ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02145
United States
8603055136 (Phone)
02122 (Fax)

Jean C. Bedard (Contact Author)

Bentley University - Department of Accountancy ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02452
United States
781-891-2410 (Phone)
781-891-2896 (Fax)

Olof Bik

Nyenrode Business Universiteit ( email )

Straatweg 25
P.O. Box 130
Breukelen, 3620 AC

Ann Vanstraelen

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, Limburg 6200MD

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