Auditor-client management relationships and roles in negotiating financial reporting
We carry out an interview based field study of chief financial officer (CFO)-audit partner dyads to examine the assumption that the roles played by each side and the nature of the relationships are similar across negotiations. These dyads freely discussed with us their relationship, a specific issue negotiated and it's resolution process. Employing the lens of social positioning negotiation research, we find these negotiations are 'fluid', with continual redefinition not only of the substantive issues under negotiation, but also of the negotiation roles and relationships (i.e. 'shadow' negotiations). The CFO's actions and expectations in these 'shadow' negotiations appear to define the auditor's role and the relationship's parameters, but both can evolve over time. The audit partners express a desire to be in the "ideal" relationship where they assume the role of the 'expert advisor' (as opposed to a 'police officer') but they seemingly have no explicit strategy to move the relationship toward a 'proactive' (rather than 'reactive') state. Furthermore, the audit partner is always the 'relationship manager' whose job it is to see that client management remains "happy". These roles and relationships negotiated in the 'shadows' also affect how the negotiation process unfolds, including the set of alternative accounting treatments considered during negotiations. Finally, audit firms appear to manage the assignment of partners to engagements based on CFO preferences and remove those partners who are in "poor" relationships, irrespective of why the relationship is considered by the CFO to be "poor". Implications for the broader research program on auditor-client management negotiations are discussed.
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