A Comparison of Auditor and Client Initial Negotiation Positions and Tactics

Practical Implications:

This study provides a more complete examination of auditor-client pre-negotiation decisions and negotiation tactics when confronted with an ambiguous accounting issue.  Because auditors and clients approach conflict resolution and make negotiation decisions in very different ways, the results should be of interest to auditors.

Citation:

Bame-Aldred, C. W. and T. Kida. 2007. A Comparison of Auditor and Client Initial Negotiation Positions and Tactics. Accounting, Organizations, and Society 32 (6): 497-511.

Purpose of the Study:

Auditors must work with clients when forming their financial reporting decisions and the two parties may encounter situations where their reporting goals are different.  This conflict can compel the auditor and client to enter into formal or informal negotiations.  Various studies have previously examined auditor-client negotiation behavior, but none have directly compared the negotiation decisions of auditors and clients when faced with the same negotiation context. As such, the overall purpose of the study is to further examine the negotiation behavior of auditors and clients when facing an ambiguous revenue recognition issue.  Negotiation behavior will ultimately have an impact on the firm’s financial reporting decisions. Below are the objectives that the authors address in their study:

  • Examine the degree of flexibility inherent in auditor and client initial negotiation positions.
  • Examine whether auditors and clients accurately perceive the other party’s initial positions.
  • Examine the types of negotiation tactics auditors and clients are likely to use.

Design/Method/ Approach:

The authors collected their evidence via research questionnaires mailed to auditors at national CPA firms and experienced financial managers at various companies during the Spring and Summer of 2002.  The auditor participants included partners, senior managers, and managers.  The financial managers included CFOs, controllers, accounting managers, and analysts from 38 different companies.  Participants read summary financial information, a description of the auditor-client relationship, and a scenario about the proper amount of revenue recognition in a specific conflict scenario.  Participants were asked questions about their initial negotiation positions, their range of acceptable amounts, their perceptions of the other party’s positions and limits, the importance of certain revenue recognition issues, and the likelihood of using specific types of negotiation tactics.

Findings:

  • Auditors and clients differ in their desired recognition amounts, thus establishing the need for negotiation to resolve this conflict.
  • Auditor solution sets (i.e., the revenue recognition amounts between their reporting goal and their limit) were about half as large as client solution sets, indicating considerably less flexibility by auditors during the negotiation process.
  • Auditors’ and clients’ had overlapping solution sets, indicating that a negotiated settlement should still be quickly attainable for most auditor-client negotiations.
  • Clients’ perceptions were significantly more accurate than auditors’ perceptions about the other party’s goals and limits of recognition amounts.  Auditors appear to overestimate clients’ actual reporting goals and limits.
  • Auditors considered issues supporting higher revenue recognition (e.g., missing the analysts’ earnings estimates and management incentive bonus) as less important than clients.  Clients thought that consistency with existing revenue recognition methods and increased earnings variability were more important issues than did auditors.  However, auditors and clients considered issues supporting lower revenue recognition to be equally important.
  • Tactics:
    • The highest rated tactic by both auditors and clients was problem-solving (i.e., to provide substantial rationale for their solution to persuade the other party to change their mind).
    • Both auditors and clients agreed they should try to get information about the other party’s preferences and that they would try to appear as if they would not back down from their initial position.
    • The lowest rated tactic by both auditors and clients was to threaten to qualify the opinion (by auditors) or to threaten to terminate the relationship (by clients).
    • Clients were more likely than auditors to use a tactic of bid high / concede later and a tactic of attempting to trade-off certain issues.

Overall, auditors were less likely to use tactics that could be interpreted as appearing inconsistent with their professional responsibilities.