This paper seeks to examine how auditors sought to establish their trustworthiness as trust providers on the internet; a vision which has remained largely unrealized. The investigation focuses on the WebTrust assurance project, launched by the North American accounting institutes to reinvigorate the alleged declining market for the expertise of external auditors.
An in‐depth longitudinal case study drew on a social theory of trust to examine the complexity of relations upon which trustworthiness of professional claims is predicated and investigate how commercialism has influenced the development of WebTrust.
Analysis illustrates the critical role that experts have in professionalization processes in trusting (or not) their own systems of expertise. Also, face‐to‐face relationships continue to play a key role in establishing the trustworthiness of professionals and their systems of expertise – even in the cyberspace domain.
It is argued that the WebTrust case and other commercialistic ventures sustained in accountancy provide a persuasive argument against the benefits of the free‐market logic in professional domains. Professional associations should be more vigorous in defending professionalism.
The research indicates that élite bodies of the profession, including professional associations, conceived of WebTrust mainly through a commercialistic lens – which is particularly revealing of the mindset that seemed to characterize a number of experienced professional accountants across North America shortly before the collapse of Andersen. The WebTrust saga illustrates how the profession has strayed from its ideals, or myths, of service ethic towards more focused efforts in developing “innovative” services based on a commercialistic logic.
Barrett, M. and Gendron, Y. (2006), "WebTrust and the “commercialistic auditor”: The unrealized vision of developing auditor trustworthiness in cyberspace", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 631-662. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570610689640Download as .RIS
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