Audit-Firm Profitability: Determinants and Implications for Audit Outcomes

European Accounting Review, Forthcoming

47 Pages Posted: 23 May 2021 Last revised: 30 Nov 2023

Date Written: January 13, 2023


We use a novel dataset that links audit-firm and client-firm financial statement information from the U.K.’s largest audit firms to examine drivers of audit-firm profitability and its implications for audit outcomes. We first explore the determinants of audit-firm profitability and conclude that Big-4 and non-Big-4 audit firms have fundamentally different profitability structures. Big-4 firms have higher profit margins than non-Big-4 firms. Furthermore, Big-4 profitability increases with client size and complexity, while non-Big-4 profitability is higher for smaller, private-firm clients. Next, we examine the relation between audit-firm profitability and audit outcomes. Using a battery of alternative outcome measures, we find that more profitable audit firms deliver higher audit quality. In supplemental analyses we show that the positive relation between audit-firm profitability and audit outcomes is generally stronger for more influential and illiquid clients (i.e., when auditors are exposed to more litigation risk). Our inferences are robust to several endogeneity controls, such as using an instrumental variables approach, controlling for client-firm and audit-firm fixed effects, employing lead-lag and changes specifications, and assessing bias from correlated omitted variables. Our study contributes to the literature by being the first to provide insights into audit-firm profitability and examine in detail its implications for audit quality.

Keywords: Auditing, Audit Firms, Audit-Firm Profitability, Key Audit Matters, Private Firms, Audit Quality, Audit Effort

JEL Classification: G30, M10, M40, M41, M42

Suggested Citation

Chen, Jeff Zeyun and Elemes, Anastasios and Hope, Ole-Kristian and Yoon, Aaron, Audit-Firm Profitability: Determinants and Implications for Audit Outcomes (January 13, 2023). European Accounting Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Jeff Zeyun Chen

Texas Christian University ( email )

2900 Lubbock Ave
Fort Worth, TX 76109
United States

Anastasios Elemes

ESSEC Business School ( email )

3 Avenue Bernard Hirsch
CS 50105 CERGY

Ole-Kristian Hope (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management ( email )

105 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6 M5S1S4


Aaron Yoon

Northwestern University - Department of Accounting Information & Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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