| HBS Working Paper Series
The Auditing Oligopoly and Lobbying on Accounting Standards
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, finally, 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 usually demand accounting flexibility at the expense of reliability). The results are inconsistent with the claim that the Big N increasingly consider themselves "too big to fail" as the audit oligopoly tightens.