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Audit Research Case
Maintenance of sound governance levels is a task that requires supervision of operations and performance. To ensure accountability in management, companies resort to services of external audit companies. Corporate governance significantly benefits from independent auditors whose value for investors is derived from their ability to “detect errors or breaches in the accounting system and to resist client pressures to disclose such discoveries” (Bottaro et al. 261). The aim of this paper is to compare the audit fees of three companies: Walmart, Bank of America, and Aetna.
Audit fees can significantly differ across various industries. For example, audit fees for the retail industry are usually lower than those for the financial industry.
Table 1 below outlines a comparison of audit fees and financial statements for Walmart, Bank of America, and Aetna.
|Name||Walmart||Bank of America||Aetna|
|Industry||Retail||Banking, financial services||Managed health care|
|Walmart is a multinational retailing corporation that owns more than 11, 500 locations in 28 countries around the world (Walmart Our Business).||Bank of America is a multinational banking corporation that provides its services in more than 40 countries around the world (Bank of America Who we are).||The company specifies in selling health care insurance plans and other medical services such as pharmaceutical, long-term care, and disability plans among others (Aetna Our Corporate Profile).|
|Audit Fees Paid to Auditor||$18, 437M||$76, 700M||$14, 313M|
|Total Fees Paid to Auditor||$21, 782M||$93, 500M||$16, 388M|
|Name of Audit Firm||Ernst & Young LLP||PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP||KPMG LLP|
|Total Assets of the Company||$199, 581B||$2, 144T||$ 53, 421B|
|Total Revenues of the Company||$482, 130B||$82, 507B||$60, 336B|
The importance of external audits for corporate governance is underscored by investors who view auditors as “independent, objective and unlikely to be influenced by their clients” (Hassan and Naser 14). However, audit fees often differ to a significant degree across various industries. A large body of academic literature indicates that the most important factors influencing a number of audit fees include but are not limited to a size of a company, profitability, risks, industry, audit firm profile, the complexity of services, report lag, and independence of audit committee (Hassan and Naser 15).
The size of total fees paid to auditors by Walmart, Bank of America, and Aetna in 2016 amounted to $21, 782M, $93, 500M, and $16, 388M, respectively (Aetna Proxy Statements; Bank of America Annual Reports; Walmart 2016 Annual Report). Audit fees for Walmart were significantly lower than those paid by Bank of America. It has to do with the fact that unlike the banking industry audit clients, companies operating in the retail industry do not engage in extremely complex revenue transactions. Therefore, the audit for Walmart was less expensive than that for Bank of America and its cost came close to what Aetna paid. Furthermore, there is ample evidence suggesting that audit fees are highly dependent on corporate size (Hassan and Naser 15). It can be explained by the fact that large corporations require more time and services provided by an auditor. Taking into consideration that the total assets of Bank of America amounted to $2, 144T in 2016, it is no surprise that the company was charged the highest audit fees (Bank of America Annual Reports).
The profitability of a company also plays a big part in the determination of audit fees. However, even though Walmart ranks the highest on the corporate profitability scale with its $482, 130B in total revenues in 2016, it paid only $21, 782M in audit fees as compared to $93, 500M paid by Bank of America in the same year (Bank of America Annual Reports; Walmart 2016 Annual Report). It has to do with the fact that the companies operate in different industries that are characterized by a different level of complexity of their financial operations. Moreover, even though it is expected that the more profitable company would have to pay higher audit fees, a number of subsidiaries are another important variable that explains the discrepancy in the numbers. Bank of America has more subsidiaries than both Walmart and Aetna do; therefore, it requires “more audit time and greater expertise to ensure the accuracy of the consolidated financial statements” (Hassan and Naser 15). Moreover, clients with a high level of corporate complexity can subject their external auditing companies to a higher number of professional liability claims as opposed to clients with a low level of corporate complexity (Hassan and Naser 15).
The level of corporate complexity is related to the industry in which the company operates. Therefore, the differences in the size of fees paid by the companies can be ascribed to the variations incorporate industry types: retail, banking, and financial services, and managed health care.
The analysis of differences in audit fees paid by Walmart, Bank of America, and Aetna in 2016 shows that there is a significant variation between numbers provided by the companies in their annual proxy statements. The discrepancies can be explained by the differences in industry types, a level of corporate complexity, corporate size, and corporate profitability. Therefore, it can be concluded that company attributes play the main role in the determination of the size of audit fees.
Aetna. “Our Corporate Profile.” Aetna, Web.
“Proxy Statements.” Investor.aetna, Web.
Bank of America. “Annual Reports & Proxy Statements.” Investor.bankofamerica, Web.
“Who we are” Bankofamerica, Web.
Bottaro, Walter, et al. “Determinants of Audit Fees: A Study in the Companies Listed on BM&FBOVESPA, Brazil.” Scielo, vol. 26, no. 69, 2015, pp. 261-273.
Hassan, Yousef, and Kamal Naser. “Determinants of Audit Fees: Evidence from an Emerging Economy.” International Business Research, vol. 6, no. 8, 2013, pp. 13-25.
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Walmart. “2016 Annual Report” Stock.walmart, Web.
“Our Business.” Walmart, Web.