As a productive member of Isenberg’s nationally prominent behavioral accounting research group, accounting professor Bradley Bennett is a staunch advocate for its approach in research and practice. “In practice, behavioral considerations can bring auditors and other professionals a more critical perspective that ultimately improves their insights with risk and uncertainty,” he observes. “They, for example, might become more aware and critical of how certain factors impact the way they gather, evaluate, and/or make decisions with client data and information.” In addition, they might gain additional insights, he adds, into how new and different communication technologies can influence auditors’ strategies and decisions.
In August, Professor Bennett began a prestigious three-month residency with KPMG’s James Marwick Professor in Residence Program. Based at KPMG’s Department of Professional Practice in Manhattan, Bennett is working with the firm’s Audit Innovation Group, which develops and fosters innovative approaches to the audit process and provides professionals with best practices that improve audit quality and client service. He is one of two professors chosen for the first year of the new, innovative program.
Bennett’s interactions with partners and other professionals are shedding light on a dynamic, changing profession and the education of accounting professionals. He is also gaining an immersive, first-hand look at current auditing practice, including a lens into the evolving skills and capabilities valued by his host.
That includes KPMG’s premium on the impact of new technologies, which Bennett plans to explore during his residency. “Their impact at firms will prove pivotal for the profession, affecting audit procedures and methodologies,” he predicts. “I think it’s inevitable that auditing standards and regulatory inspection processes will have to be reexamined and changed,” he insists. “Without question, an understanding of those evolving issues will contribute to my research and inform my teaching.”
The role of technology has been a periodic theme in Bennett’s research. In a recent working paper with Rick Hatfield of the University of Alabama, the Isenberg professor explored different perspectives and outcomes in auditors’ deployment of computer-mediated versus face-to-face communication with clients. Compared with managers and partners, staff auditors, the researchers found, are more comfortable using computer-mediated communication (CMC) in a wider variety of interactions with clients.
“While auditors may applaud CMC gains in efficiency, our findings also suggest that they and other mediums with reduced channels are less appropriate for complex and unique problem-solving tasks,” Bennett remarks. You lose, for example, nonverbal cues, including body language, verbal pauses, and changes in pitch. In contrast, face-to-face interactions spawn more content and follow-up questions as well as more relationship-building statements. A bottom line: a richer interactive “picture” arms auditors with greater skepticism—a key professional asset.
In a second paper, with Cornell University’s Ryan Guggenmos (a recent graduate of Isenberg’s PhD program in accounting), Bennett investigated investor responses to the alignment of a company’s image/brand with the communications platforms that it employs (in this case, the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter). The researchers found that when a company’s image and media platforms don’t align (e.g., a less innovative company using an innovative communication mode), it takes longer for investors to process the information and make their “buy” decisions, even though their investment amounts were no different from those where investor perceptions of the company and media platform did align.
Back at Isenberg, Bennett’s aim in his undergraduate and masters-level audit classes, he emphasizes, steers clear of creating legions of behavioral accounting researchers. “But I do want Isenberg students to become more comfortable with uncertainty, problem solving, skepticism, and complexity,” he insists. “In that, taking an innovative approach to challenges and problems, especially as new technologies emerge, will impact the way decisions are made and problems are solved, yielding more rewarding careers.”