Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

The Auditing Oligopoly and Lobbying on Accounting Standards

by Abigail M. Allen, Karthik Ramanna and Sugata Roychowdhury

Abstract

We examine how the tightening of the U.S. auditing oligopoly over the last twenty-five years—from the Big 8 to the Big 6, the Big 5, and, then, the Big 4—has affected the incentives of the Big N, as manifest in their lobbying preferences on accounting standards. We find, as the oligopoly has tightened, Big N auditors are more likely to express concerns about decreased "reliability" in FASB-proposed accounting standards (relative to an independent benchmark); this finding is robust to controls for various alternative explanations. The results are consistent with the Big N auditors facing greater political and litigation costs attributable to their increased visibility from tightening oligopoly and with decreased competitive pressure among the Big N to satisfy client preferences (who, relative to auditors, favor accounting flexibility over reliability). The results are inconsistent with the claim that the Big N increasingly consider themselves "too big to fail" as the audit oligopoly tightens.

Keywords: Standards; Accounting Audits; Accounting Industry; United States;

Citation:

Allen, Abigail M., Karthik Ramanna, and Sugata Roychowdhury. "The Auditing Oligopoly and Lobbying on Accounting Standards." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-054, December 2012. (Revised August 2013.)