Independence, impartiality, and advocacy in client conflicts

Michael Roberts
Research in Accounting Regulation, In Press

Prior research indicates auditors’ financial reporting judgments are conservative when client preference is unknown, but auditors are less conservative (though not client-supportive) when clients’ preferred accounting methods for favorable financial reporting are explicitly communicated. This paper reports, for the first time, a situation in which experienced auditors exhibit client-supportive behavior. Professional judgments in an audit setting in which there is an explicit client preference for a material, income-increasing reporting classification and the relevant GAAP standard is principle-based are compared to a similar judgment in a tax setting. This research design contrasts the auditor’s ethical duty to exercise “judicial impartiality” toward the client with Certified Public Accountants’ ethical duty to be a client advocate in tax contexts. The results suggest experienced CPAs’ are as client-supportive in audit settings as they are in tax settings when exercising their professional judgment, and ethical standards mandating impartiality in auditing are not uniformly being followed.