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Accounting Firms: Global Spread with Limited Transnationalization


  • Jochen Zimmermann

    () (University of Bremen - Faculty of Business Studies and Economics & ZenTra)

  • Jan-Christoph Volckmer

    () (University of Bremen - Faculty of Business Studies and Economics)


As financial markets have increasingly globalised, the regulatory framework is still nationally fragmented. One core regulatory element is the provision of assurance services by accounting firms. The Big 4 - the leading international providers of audit services Ð are not as international as are accounting standards or their clients. The paper traces three facets of the transnationalization of accounting firms: explanations for internationalization rooted in the theory of the firm, their modes of internal organization and limits to further transnationalization. Accounting firms are professional service firms with low fixed and high intangible assets. This limits the theories that can explain the internationalization of firms. We examine which theories are the most promising to explain the internationalization of the Big 4. Regarding their internal structures, our empirical analysis suggests that Big 4 accounting firms aspire to develop an integrated network structure which is known from the transnational corporation of the Bartlett and Ghoshal typology. This becomes particularly manifest in international staff exchange. Accounting firms are also deeply embedded in the regulatory framework. Its national fragmentation sets limits to further globalisation of assurance services.

Suggested Citation

  • Jochen Zimmermann & Jan-Christoph Volckmer, 2012. "Accounting Firms: Global Spread with Limited Transnationalization," ZenTra Working Papers in Transnational Studies 11 / 2012, ZenTra - Center for Transnational Studies, revised Dec 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:zen:wpaper:11

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    More about this item


    Accounting firms; professional service firms; internationalization; regulatory embeddedness;

    JEL classification:

    • F23 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - Multinational Firms; International Business
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • L84 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Personal, Professional, and Business Services
    • L50 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - General

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