This paper examines whether the clients of a merged audit firm have shortened report lag, increased audit fees, or reduced audit quality following the merger. These questions are important for a balanced investigation of a firm merger because regulators focus more on the downside of a merger than on its upside. Using a merger of audit firms in Hong Kong as a setting, this paper reports that clients of the merged firm have shorter audit report lag post-merger in the property industry in which the merged firm subsequently obtained more than one-half of the market share. Simultaneously, the evidence does not suggest that clients of the merged firm are charged higher audit fees or provided with lower quality audits after the merger. Thus, the results suggest that the merger of audit firms can benefit clients without corresponding disadvantages. Because this is a case study where the market share, industry specialization, expertise, and professional development of the audit firms may be unique, more research is needed on audit firm mergers to determine if these results are generalizable.
When audit firms merge, regulators focus more on the downside of the merger of firms than on its upside, such as whether the merged firm reduces the quality or increases the price of its services.1 Therefore, prior studies on the mergers of audit firms focused on whether audit quality is reduced, audit fees are increased, or the audit market becomes more concentrated or less competitive following a merger. These studies include Healy and Lys (1986), Tonge and Wootton (1991), Iyer and Iyer (1996), Lawrence and Glover (1998), Choi and Zeghal (1999), Ivancevich and Zarakoohi (2000), Ferguson and Stokes (2002), Sullivan (2002), Firth and Lau (2004), Lee (2005), Chen, Su, and Wu (2010), Chan and Wu (2011), Wang, Liu, and Chang (2011), Ding and Jia (2012), Gong, Li, Lin, and Wu (2016), and Choi, Kim, and Raman (2017). 2 However, the literature (Pong, 1999; Sullivan, 2002) argues that labor productivity may be increased through enhanced economies of scale following a merger. As such, it is reasonable to suggest that the audit report lag may be reduced. For a balanced investigation of an audit firm merger, the current paper examines the audit report lag in addition to audit pricing and audit quality following a merger. The focus on audit report lag is important for two reasons. First, the timeliness of financial statements is an important issue for investors because “… periodic reports contain valuable information for investors… and… a lengthy delay before that information becomes available makes the information less valuable to investors” (Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 2002).