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Reading Russian Tea Leaves: Assessing the Quality of Bank Financial Statements with the Benford Distribution


  • Denis Davydov

    (Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Vaasa, P. O. Box 700, FI-65101 Vaasa, Finland)

  • Steve Swidler

    (Department of Finance, Auburn University, Lowder 303, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA)


Benford’s Law, a rule concerning first digits of an array of numbers, has frequently been used to test for the reporting quality of financial statements. When applied to the recent experience for Russian banks, one conclusion is that the 2004 regime shift in accounting standards produced higher quality financial statements. Prior to 2004, the Benford evidence suggests that Russian banks tended to round revenues up, expenses down and thus overstate net income. It also appears that banks may have presented stronger balance sheets than warranted. In the second part of the analysis, the practical use of Benford’s Law to discern a looming bank failure appears limited. While there is, perhaps, some beneficial information to be drawn from testing for Benford distribution conformity, in isolation the tests for financial statement manipulation are inconclusive. Instead, Benford might be used with other early warning detection algorithms to recognize impending bank failures.

Suggested Citation

  • Denis Davydov & Steve Swidler, 2016. "Reading Russian Tea Leaves: Assessing the Quality of Bank Financial Statements with the Benford Distribution," Review of Pacific Basin Financial Markets and Policies (RPBFMP), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 19(04), pages 1-20, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:wsi:rpbfmp:v:19:y:2016:i:04:n:s0219091516500211
    DOI: 10.1142/S0219091516500211

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bernhard Rauch & Max Göttsche & Gernot Brähler & Stefan Engel, 2011. "Fact and Fiction in EU‐Governmental Economic Data," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 12(3), pages 243-255, August.
    2. Mary E. Barth & Wayne R. Landsman & Mark H. Lang, 2008. "International Accounting Standards and Accounting Quality," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(3), pages 467-498, June.
    3. Holger Daske & Günther Gebhardt, 2006. "International financial reporting standards and experts’ perceptions of disclosure quality," Abacus, Accounting Foundation, University of Sydney, vol. 42(3‐4), pages 461-498, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kauko, Karlo, 2019. "Benford’s law and Chinese banks’ non-performing loans," BOFIT Discussion Papers 25/2019, Bank of Finland, Institute for Economies in Transition.
    2. Michael Lacina & B. Brian Lee & Dong Wuk Kim, 2018. "Management of Revenue and Earnings in Korean Firms Influenced by Cognitive Reference Points," Review of Pacific Basin Financial Markets and Policies (RPBFMP), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 21(02), pages 1-36, June.

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