Non-audit Engagements and the Creation of Public Value: Consequences for the Public Interest

Journal of Business Ethics 178 (2):467-479 (2021)
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Abstract

In this article, we extend the research on the public interest to non-audit engagements performed by accounting firms and public accountants. Our thesis is that non-audit engagements, as private goods, require a distinct approach to the public interest than auditing. We suggest that a public value perspective can be used conceptually to provide substantial criteria for designing non-audit engagements conducive to public value creation and greater accountability. We illustrate the applicability and consequences of a public value perspective by analyzing and contrasting the decision of two judicial opinions deciding whether Deloitte and the lead partner of a consulting engagement failed to act in the public interest in engineering the sale of collapsed British carmaker MG Rover. We advocate for a significant change in ethical codes of conduct by defining public interest obligations, not only in terms of professional attributes, but also in terms of outcomes. Our approach also suggests a requirement regarding planning a non-audit engagement, including establishing a public value proposition detailing the planned nature of the engagement, and extent of the assessment of the intended public value creation. We discuss the aspirational function of codes of conduct to provide accountability other than in terms of technical output, and to maintain the legitimacy and purpose of the profession.

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