SUMMARY

Internal control over financial reporting (ICFR) audits have been the subject of intensive examination by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and researchers but the process through which auditors make ICFR judgments is largely a “black box.” To understand ICFR judgments, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 audit partners. Common themes in our interviews suggest that the subjectivity inherent in the ICFR evaluation task contributes to resistance against ICFR audit findings and cougnterarguments from management. Moreover, auditors perceive that their judgments are being second-guessed by PCAOB inspectors. Auditors believe that managers have difficulty accepting that material weaknesses can exist without a detected error, that management's reflexive reaction is to deny/avoid a material weakness finding, and managers routinely claim that management review controls (MRCs) would have caught the detected control deficiency. Auditors cope with management's defenses by consulting with their national office and leveraging support from strong audit committees.

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