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WebTrust and the “commercialistic auditor”: The unrealized vision of developing auditor trustworthiness in cyberspace


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  • Michael Barrett
  • Yves Gendron
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    Purpose – This paper seeks to examine how auditors sought to establish their trustworthiness as trust providers on the internet; a vision which has remained largely unrealized. The investigation focuses on the WebTrust assurance project, launched by the North American accounting institutes to reinvigorate the alleged declining market for the expertise of external auditors. Design/methodology/approach – An in-depth longitudinal case study drew on a social theory of trust to examine the complexity of relations upon which trustworthiness of professional claims is predicated and investigate how commercialism has influenced the development of WebTrust. Findings – Analysis illustrates the critical role that experts have in professionalization processes in trusting (or not) their own systems of expertise. Also, face-to-face relationships continue to play a key role in establishing the trustworthiness of professionals and their systems of expertise – even in the cyberspace domain. Practical implications – It is argued that the WebTrust case and other commercialistic ventures sustained in accountancy provide a persuasive argument against the benefits of the free-market logic in professional domains. Professional associations should be more vigorous in defending professionalism. Originality/value – The research indicates that élite bodies of the profession, including professional associations, conceived of WebTrust mainly through a commercialistic lens – which is particularly revealing of the mindset that seemed to characterize a number of experienced professional accountants across North America shortly before the collapse of Andersen. The WebTrust saga illustrates how the profession has strayed from its ideals, or myths, of service ethic towards more focused efforts in developing “innovative” services based on a commercialistic logic.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal.

    Volume (Year): 19 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 5 (September)
    Pages: 631-662

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    Handle: RePEc:eme:aaajpp:v:19:y:2006:i:5:p:631-662

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    Postal: Emerald Group Publishing, Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley, BD16 1WA, UK

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    Keywords: Accounting firms; Auditing; Commercial services; Service quality assurance; United States of America; Worldwide web;


    References listed on IDEAS
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    1. Barrett, Michael & Cooper, David J. & Jamal, Karim, 2005. "Globalization and the coordinating of work in multinational audits," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 1-24, January.
    2. Power, Michael, 1997. "Expertise and the construction of relevance: Accountants and environmental audit," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 123-146, February.
    3. Manishi Prasad & Peter Wahlqvist & Rich Shikiar & Ya-Chen Tina Shih, 2004. "A," PharmacoEconomics, Springer Healthcare | Adis, vol. 22(4), pages 225-244.
    4. Ballas, Apostoles A., 1998. "The creation of the auditing profession in Greece," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 23(8), pages 715-736, November.
    5. Arnold, Patricia J., 2005. "Disciplining domestic regulation: the World Trade Organization and the market for professional services," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 299-330, May.
    6. Pentland, Brian T., 1993. "Getting comfortable with the numbers: Auditing and the micro-production of macro-order," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 18(7-8), pages 605-620.
    7. Walker, Stephen P., 2004. "The genesis of professional organisation in English accountancy," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 127-156, February.
    8. Sikka, Prem & Willmott, Hugh, 1995. "The power of "independence": defending and extending the jurisdiction of accounting in the United Kingdom," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 20(6), pages 547-581, August.
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    Cited by:
    1. Claire France Picard & Sylvain Durocher & Yves Gendron, 2013. "From Meticulous Professionals To Superheroes Of The Business World: A Historical Portrait Of A Cultural Change In The Field Of Accountancy," Post-Print hal-00993019, HAL.
    2. Andon, Paul & Free, Clinton, 2012. "Auditing and crisis management: The 2010 Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 131-154.
    3. Pollock, Neil & D’Adderio, Luciana, 2012. "Give me a two-by-two matrix and I will create the market: Rankings, graphic visualisations and sociomateriality," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 37(8), pages 565-586.


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