Following enactment of the Sarbanes‐Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002, Big 4 auditors claimed to have a more conservative policy regarding client retention and acceptance decisions. In this paper, we examine the resignations of Big 4 audit firms in periods before and after SOX. We find that Big 4 audit firms resigned from more audit clients in 2003 than in 2001, and that the 2003 group of clients had significantly lower measures of financial stress. Our results are robust to adjustments for differences in bankruptcy probability between 2003 and 2001. We also find that the relative increases in fees charged by the Big 4 successor following the resignation of a Big 4 predecessor are higher in 2003 than in 2001; for clients with a non‐Big 4 successor firm following a Big 4 resignation, we find a significant fee discount in 2001 but not in 2003. Overall, the results support the view that auditors are much more conservative in the post‐Enron/SOX period than in the immediately preceding period.

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