SYNOPSIS

U.S. and international auditing standard setters continue to raise questions about standard auditors' reports and are exploring alternatives to those reports. Government agencies and professional organizations are also raising questions about the auditor's report. These questions point to a continued existence of an “audit expectation gap.” To investigate perceptions and misperceptions regarding the auditor's report, we conducted focus groups with five different stakeholder groups—financial statement preparers (CFOs), users (bankers, analysts, and non-professional investors), and external auditors. This approach allows detailed comparisons between the perceptions of the different stakeholder groups affected by the auditor's report. Findings include that financial statement users value the audit, but do not read the entire auditor's report. It is not clear to users, preparers, and auditors what the auditor's report is intended to communicate or the level of assurance being provided by the report. Stakeholders offered numerous suggestions to improve the auditor's report, but they also recognize those suggestions could significantly change the auditor's risk profile and increase audit fees. We suggest future research to determine if potential changes to the auditor's report would change users' behavior and if any resulting benefits outweigh the additional risks and costs.

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