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2020B03 - Learning and performing in audit firms: The role of the organizational context (PhD project C. Peters)

This study forms the basis of the PhD project by Christian Peters, from Tilburg University.


The first study investigates how an organizational context in which auditor-artificial intelligence interactions are prevalent affects auditors’ cognitive processing and subsequently the degree of professional skepticism exercised by auditors. If auditors over rely on artificial intelligence, both learning and performance are likely to be inhibited. Experienced audit practitioners expect that during the next five years, artificial intelligence is the area in which there will be the most innovation in the audit profession (Austin, Carpenter, Christ, and Nielson 2019). However, although artificial intelligence may lead to performance gains in the audit, artificial intelligence does not easily replicate auditor expertise. Therefore, audit firms emphasize that artificial intelligence will not replace auditors but enhance them (KPMG 2016, PwC 2017). Thus, with the adoption of artificial intelligence, auditors increasingly have to apply professional skepticism to artificial intelligence (Olsen and Gold 2018).

The second study investigates the organizational context of seeking and giving performance feedback in the audit environment. Performance feedback is a cornerstone of the modern audit environment as it aids learning (Hattie and Timperley 2007), improves performance (London 2003), and improves judgment and decision-making (Bonner 2008). Yet, regulators, audit partners, and audit staff have significant concerns about the sufficiency and effectiveness of performance feedback (e.g., PCAOB 2010, Lambert and Agoglia 2011, Westermann et al. 2015). For instance, Westermann et al. (2015) show that audit partners worry that supervisors struggle to provide negative or critical evaluations to their staff, as they fear this leads to employee dissatisfaction and turnover.

The third study investigates how the context of audit teams affects learning and performance. More specifically, we investigate the role of audit team familiarity (i.e., the shared experience with team members) in on-the-job learning and team performance. Auditors tend to work on multiple engagements with multiple supervisors and peers, implying that auditors frequently change supervisors and peers. Yet, we know little about whether or how the resulting lack of team familiarity affects auditor learning and performance.


In the past decade, the Dutch auditing profession has been under widespread public and political pressure to improve audit quality and change its culture from one focused on compliance and efficiency to one focused on adaptation and learning (e.g., WTA 2014; MCA 2016; 2020; CTA 2020). Inspection reports of the Dutch Financial Markets Authority (AFM 2010, 2014) had long shown too many deficiencies in critical aspects of the audit, leading to external pressures to reform.
Investigating how the organizational context can contribute to a culture in which auditors focus on adaptation and on-the-job learning is important for at least three reasons. First, against the backdrop of changing expectations from society and stakeholders, rapid technological developments, and the increasing complexity of information systems, it is of utmost importance for auditors to learn new professional skills, competencies, and qualities on-the-job to keep pace with these developments (ICAS & FRC 2016). Second, auditors indicate that they want to develop themselves by learning on-the-job, exercising professional judgments, and solving problems (Wallage, Bouwens, and Bik 2018). However, technocratic aspects of the job such as standardization, regulatory burdens, and a focus on compliance hamper auditors from doing so, leading to lower audit quality and increased turnover intentions (Pierce and Sweeney 2004, Martinow, Moroney, and Harding 2020). Third, Westermann, Bedard, and Earley (2015) find that on-the-job learning functions as the primary means to transmit technical knowledge and social norms to new auditors.

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  • Project Number
  • Research team
    C. Peters
    Prof. Dierynck
    Prof. Kadous
  • Involved University
    Tilburg University
  • Timeline
    09/19 - 08/23