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Fear and risk in the audit process

Author

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  • Guénin-Paracini, Henri
  • Malsch, Bertrand
  • Paillé, Anne Marché

Abstract

Relying on an ethnographic study conducted in the French branch of a big audit firm and using a psychodynamic perspective to interpret the collected data, we show that auditors’ sense of comfort (Pentland, 1993) arises only at the end of the audit process, and that the rest of the time, public accountants are inhabited primarily by fear. Fear plays a crucial but ambivalent role in auditing. On one hand, auditors and audit firms cultivate this feeling through informal and formal techniques to stimulate vigilance, encourage self-surpassment, mitigate the anesthetizing effect of habit and maintain reputation. On the other hand, audit teams’ members strive to alleviate their fear in order to form and convey their conclusions with a certain degree of comfort. In the field, driven by fear, they manage to finally become comfortable either by mobilizing their ‘practical intelligence’ (an intelligence of the body which helps them handle that which, in their mission, cannot be obtained through the strict execution of standardized procedures) or by adopting defensive strategies (such as distancing themselves from work-related problems, mechanically applying audit methodologies or relaxing their conception of a job well done). Fear and risk are closely related phenomena. Michael Power (2007a, p. 180) notes that ‘the significant driver of the managerialization of risk management is an institutional fear and anxiety’. Yet the experience of fear and the role that fear plays in risk management processes is most often overlooked in the literature. In this respect, our study contributes to ‘emotionalize’ and challenge the cognitive and technical orientation adopted by most academics and regulators in their understanding of audit risks and auditors’ scepticism. We also discuss a number of avenues for future research with a view to encouraging further examination of the role that emotions play in the audit process.

Suggested Citation

  • Guénin-Paracini, Henri & Malsch, Bertrand & Paillé, Anne Marché, 2014. "Fear and risk in the audit process," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 264-288.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:39:y:2014:i:4:p:264-288
    DOI: 10.1016/j.aos.2014.02.001
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:crpeac:v:39:y:2016:i:c:p:1-24 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:hur:ijaraf:v:7:y:2017:i:3:p:182-197 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:eee:crpeac:v:31:y:2015:i:c:p:23-43 is not listed on IDEAS

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