In this study, we examine the benefits of membership in an accounting firm association, network, or alliance (collectively referred to as “an association”). Associations provide member accounting firms with numerous benefits, including access to the expertise of professionals from other independent member firms, joint conferences and technical trainings, assistance in dealing with staffing and geographic limitations, and the ability to use the association name in marketing materials. We expect these benefits to result in higher-quality audits and higher audit fees (or audit fee premiums). Using hand-collected data on association membership, we find that association member firms conduct higher-quality audits than nonmember firms, where audit quality is proxied for by fewer Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) inspection deficiencies and fewer financial statement misstatements, as well as less extreme absolute discretionary accruals and lower positive discretionary accruals. We also find that audit fees are higher for clients of member firms than for clients of nonmember firms, suggesting that clients are willing to pay an audit fee premium to engage association member audit firms. Finally, we find that member firm audits are of similar quality to a size-matched sample of Big 4 audits, but member firm clients pay lower fee premiums than do Big 4 clients. Our inferences are robust to the use of company size-matched control samples, audit firm size-matched control samples, propensity score matching, two-stage least squares regression, and to analyses that consider changes in association membership. Our findings should be of interest to regulators because they suggest that association membership assists small audit firms in overcoming barriers to auditing larger audit clients. In addition, our findings should be informative to audit committees when making auditor selection decisions, and to investors and accounting researchers interested in the relation between audit firm type and audit quality.

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