Willows, G. D.
The commercialist identity of mid-tier firm auditors: A precarious balancing of priorities.
Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Early View (Online First).
Purpose: This paper aims to extend our understanding of how mid-tier firm auditors legitimise and institutionalise the logic of commercialism within their profession. This paper is responsive to research that shows how Big Four auditors have restructured the market and re-cast the relationality between the two logics to forge an identity that suits them commercially. Such research provides insight into auditor agency and intentionality, illustrating how auditors maintain and indeed grow their status and role within society.
Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews with audit executives situated in a strategically challenging regulatory context are interpreted through a theoretical framework developed from institutional complexity theory, coupled with the understanding that institutional logics are a socially constructed phenomenon.
Findings: Mid-tier auditors appear to be as commercially orientated as their Big Four counterparts, expressing the logics of professionalism and commercialism as highly complementary. In response to competitive pressures and the difficulty of replicating the multi-disciplinary practice business model of the Big Four, mid-tier auditors present a competitive and contrasting identity as “more devoted experts”, using various legitimation techniques and “heroic” representations. This identity representation is strategic, allowing them to forge a consistent and coherent “collective identity defining story” designed to counter the “versatile expert” identity of the Big Four and establish social legitimacy with their potential client base.
Originality/value: These findings contribute to our understanding of how mid-tier auditors are “catching up” to the Big Four in the construction of their commercial business model. By shedding light on the rhetoric and “identity experimentation” of auditors, the findings can aid legislators and regulators to exercise democratic control over the profession and promulgate regulations that better align auditors’ interests with the public interest. As regulators encourage mid-tier firms to compete with the Big Four and lower supply concentration in the market, this study believes the tensions inherent in the logics, as well as the strategic necessity for firms to represent themselves in a favourable manner, will become more prominent.
audit quality, institutional logic, professionalism, institutional complexity, commercialism