Accountability artefacts and auditors’ professional conduct. Box-ticking exercises or prevention of future accounting scandals?

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As a result of several accounting scandals, the integrity and credibility of accounting professionals have been questioned. As a response, the pressure from rules and regulation for the accounting profession has increased and auditors are obligated to account for their conduct. These rules and regulations, also called accountability artefacts, are meant to standardize activities and guide professional conduct. In this study, professional conduct was examined through the lens of professional routines. This study investigated how accountability artefacts affect professional routines of auditors in both the assurance and non-assurance field of the accounting profession, in order to be able to compare these two fields of accountancy. In this study, qualitative research method was used based on an interpretive approach. Data was gathered by conducting twelve interviews and analyzing documents about a survey conducted among employees of the assurance field. The twelve respondents consisted of six employees employed in the assurance field and six in the non-assurance field. Data was analyzed using the template analysis technique. The results showed that accountability artefacts have both beneficial and detrimental effects on professional routines. Beneficial is the guidance for action provided by accountability artefacts, especially for younger employees. The detailed and strict prescription offered by accountability artefacts reduced the chance of making mistakes and thereby improved quality. In addition, professional discretion still existed in the accounting organization, mostly on higher levels in the organization. The increased extent to which work is controlled by rules and regulations was a detrimental effect of accountability artefacts. Respondents declared that there was a scarcity of time to make own choices and judgements. It became clear that some tasks became box-ticking exercises and respondents were solely occupied with being compliant. The quality of reports and files could be improved if there was more time for feedback and evaluations. This study contributes to research about the effects of artefacts on professional routines in the accounting profession. It became clear that substantial differences exist between professional routines depending on job function, experience and generation within the context of accountancy. In addition, the results of this study raises questions about whether accountancy could still be called a profession or not.
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