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Measuring the independence of audit oversight entities: a comparative empirical analysis

Lukas Loehlein (Department of Accounting, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK)

Accounting Research Journal

ISSN: 1030-9616

Article publication date: 3 July 2017

Abstract

Purpose

Independent audit oversight is a prerequisite for restoring public confidence in financial reporting and auditing after the past accounting scandals and the financial crisis. By analysing and comparing the independence of the audit oversight boards of 27 European Member States and the USA, this study aims to provide insights into the question of how independent “independent” audit oversight boards are.

Design/methodology/approach

Independence is measured in terms of the organisational compositions and regulatory competences of the audit oversight authorities. The data were collected through an e-mail questionnaire that was sent to all European oversight authorities, and by analysing legal provisions of various regulators. The results are analysed and visualised by a Partial Order Scalogram Analysis with Coordinates, which allows conclusions about the similarities of various systems and their relative levels of independence. Both measurements are then equally combined into one value of material independence, which is used to rank the oversight authorities.

Findings

Although all countries encounter similar pressures to establish profession-independent oversight systems, this study identifies how differently “independence” has been translated in regulatory outcomes. While all countries claim to possess formal independent oversight bodies, there is a visible gap between countries with comparatively strong independent oversight authorities and systems in which accounting bodies still maintain far-reaching regulatory influence. At the same time, the results question the role of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) as the globally perceived benchmark of an entirely independent regulator.

Research limitations/implications

This study focuses on formal independence rather than de-facto independence. Future research has, therefore, to address how these formal arrangements have evolved in regulatory practice.

Practical implications

Policy makers around the world perceive independent oversight as one of the essential elements of regulatory reforms aiming at restoring public confidence in the aftermath of past accounting scandals. This study enables the comparison and benchmarking of national specific regulatory designs with other forms of independent oversight.

Originality/value

Although the role of independent regulation is a recurring theme in accounting research, a systematic and encompassing comparison of the intertwining of audit oversight authorities and the accounting profession has not yet been provided. This study takes a first step towards providing a quantifiable measure of the formal independence of audit oversight authorities by mobilizing concepts, methods and prior findings from the field of public policy research.

Keywords

Citation

Loehlein, L. (2017), "Measuring the independence of audit oversight entities: a comparative empirical analysis", Accounting Research Journal, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 165-184. https://doi.org/10.1108/ARJ-05-2015-0071

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited