SYNOPSIS

Does the auditor's responsibility under U.S. authoritative guidance extend to providing assurance of financial reporting quality—specifically whether financial statements “faithfully reflect the firm's underlying economics”—after the auditor has concluded that financial statements are fairly presented in conformity with GAAP, in all material respects? The question arises because DeFond and Zhang (2014) state such a view and cite U.S. authoritative guidance as support. We review SEC, PCAOB, and FASB guidance and other sources and find no authoritative support for DeFond and Zhang's (2014) view. We also find that the PCAOB explicitly recognizes the lack of objective criteria that would be necessary to evaluate financial reporting quality beyond application of GAAP to events and transactions. Further, we find no evidence that practicing auditors do (separately) assess or assure that financial statements faithfully reflect the entire firm's underlying economics. Overall, these findings suggest DeFond and Zhang (2014) express a personal (and impracticable) normative view and not the auditor's actual responsibility or practice under extant U.S. standards. More broadly, results reinforce the importance of defining and measuring audit quality based on the auditor's actual responsibilities and the importance of accurately characterizing authoritative guidance and practice for scholarship regarding complex and multifaceted matters, including audit quality.

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