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Program Aims to Give Academic Researchers More Access to Auditors

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By Michael Cohn
January 17, 2013

The Center for Audit Quality and the American Accounting Association’s Auditing Section have teamed up on a program to give academic researchers improved access to auditors from six major firms to participate in research studies.

Tenure-track professors and doctoral students will be able to conduct research with the help of auditors from Crowe Horwath, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, McGladrey and PricewaterhouseCoopers on issues relevant to the audit practice through a joint venture between the CAQ and the AAA.

“We’ve been working with the Auditing Section of the American Accounting Association for the past few years trying to get this up and running,” said CAQ executive director Cindy Fornelli. “It’s really meant to fill a need that has been identified by the academic community. It is something that we at the CAQ very much want to support for academics, be they PhD students or tenure-track professors, because the future of public company auditing really depends on having good instructors in our universities who teach auditing and accounting to incoming students. They can’t get tenured positions if they’re not able to do robust research. It’s meant to help them in their research, and it has the nice byproduct of supporting research projects that provide directions and guidance findings to help practitioners in their day-to-day jobs.”

Cindy Fornelli

She noted that historically academic researchers have needed to go from firm by firm to try to develop a research project and find the right person who would agree to help. Typically it would be someone in charge who could grant the authority to interview whatever types of subjects were needed for a given project. That could be a time-consuming, frustrating process for researchers, not to mention the people at the firms who had to field the requests.

Major firms might have to contend with multiple requests from researchers at a variety of universities and try to decide who to accommodate. Working with the AAA, the CAQ is developing a process known as the Access to Audit Personnel program, allowing researchers to submit their projects via an online portal. A team of reviewers made up of practitioners in the firms, along with an advisory panel, will look at the various proposals that have been submitted and decide which ones appear to be the most promising areas for advancing the body of research on the auditing profession.

“The firms have agreed that by using this process, they’ll make some of their employees available for this type of research,” said AAA Auditing Section president Roger Martin. “The type of research for which we typically use participants from the audit firms involves experiments and investigation regarding decision-making and judgments that auditors make, often related to how they gather evidence or evaluate evidence, how they use evidence in their decision-making.”

He noted that the researchers accepted in the program will typically conduct behavioral research in which they try to determine how auditors make decisions and process information, as opposed to archival research based on publicly available data. The researchers would not be grading an audit that a firm has done. Usually the researcher gives the auditor a particular fact pattern or case, so they can control all the variables. The new system promises to relieve pressure on both the audit firms and researchers.

A request for proposals for the Access to Audit Personnel program has been posted online, seeking proposals submitted by doctoral students and tenure-track faculty. A committee of senior academics and audit practitioners will evaluate the proposals based on factors such as the ability to address important research questions that are relevant to practice, contribution to academic literature and methodological soundness.

The RFP can be found at http://www.thecaq.org/newsroom/pdfs/RequestforProposalsforAccesstoAuditPersonnel-2013.pdf.

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