The effect of source credibility on tax professional judgment in consulting engagements
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Abstract: Consulting service sales are an important area of growth for professional accounting firms. With this growth has come increased scrutiny by regulatory and governmental bodies for potential conflicts of interest that may affect professional judgment and objectivity. To examine how research and review processes differ in tax consulting engagements, two institutional features of consulting are varied in a computerized experimental setting. Seniors and managers from Big Five firms reviewed memoranda in which information source (prepared by National Tax Office or local staff member) and engagement type (initiated by a client or by the firm) are manipulated in a 2X2 experimental design. The review process is evaluated through a computerized tax research network, Commerce Clearing House, that tracks the time spent and order of each research action. The results of this study suggest that tax professionals respond to differences in consulting settings by changing their review strategies, and final judgments are indirectly affected. Specifically, tax professionals reviewing a memorandum prepared by a local staff member in a client-initiated engagement spent more time in total, performed more searches, and viewed more authorities than professionals reviewing a National Tax Office (NTO) memorandum. Tax professionals performed the most thorough reviews when reviewing NTO memoranda as part of a firm-initiated consulting engagement (an engagement type perceived to be prone to bias). Final judgments about the client’s preferred tax treatment are indirectly affected by review strategy differences. The results of this dissertation support Chen and Chaiken’s (1999) heuristic-systematic model of cognitive processing, but they are not consistent with the presumption that objectivity is necessarily impaired in highly incentivized consulting engagements. It is precisely in the consulting engagements of concern to regulatory bodies that tax professionals perform the most thorough reviews and make less extreme final judgments.