accountability

  • Accounting Research in Central & South America

    Within the series of virtual conversations on “Diversity and Equity”, the European Accounting Association (EAA) Virtual Activities Committee is delighted to invite you to the event “Accounting Research in Central & South America”, which will take place on Zoom, on April 19th, 2023, at 2:15 – 3:45 pm CET.

    Registration is free and open here.

    Central & South America consists of a diverse set of countries that nonetheless face common political, economic, and social problems; among these, high inequality and volatile growth, which have contributed throughout the years to high levels of poverty. However, since the 2000s, many countries in the region have reduced inflation, brought external debts under control, and improved on most of the key economic and social performance indexes. These structural changes achieved by the Central & South American countries have attracted the attention of external investors, as well as large international audiences. In spite of a vibrant and growing accounting literature emanating from researchers in the region, international research communities still lack a systematic understanding of accounting issues within the context of Central & South America.

    We welcome you to join Fábio Frezatti, Giogio Gotti, Thuy Tran, Mary Vera-Colina (Speakers), and Claudio Wanderley (Moderator) in accounting research in Central & South America. The speakers involved in this virtual conversation will offer an overview of the accounting research conducted in the context of Central & South America to advance the understanding of issues related to this region. The event aims to engage with researchers that work on the field or want to know more about it, and provide the opportunity for new collaborations.

    We hope you can join the conversation. If you have any questions you would like to be discussed, please submit your questions using the registration link.

    We thank the speakers and the EAA for their support, and we look forward to welcoming you to this conversation.

    EAA Virtual Activities Committee

    Speakers:

    Fábio Frezatti, Professor of Accounting at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is the former Dean of the São Paulo University Business School. He was member of the board of directors of the European Accounting association (EAA, Central & South America representative). He was the founder and first president of the Brazilian Accounting Association (ANPCONT). He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Accounting Education and Research (IAEER). He is editor-in-chief of the ‘Contabilidade e Finanças’ Journal. He has published his research in a range of highly ranked academic outlets, e.g., Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, European Accounting Review, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Management & Governance, among others.

    Giogio Gotti, Professor of Accounting and the Director of the School of Accountancy at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is serving in the Board of Directors of the American Accounting Association (AAA) with a 3-year term (2020-2023) as Director – Focusing on International. His research interests include international and financial accounting. He is the co-author of the North American best seller textbook International Accounting, published by McGraw Hill. His papers have been published in the International Journal of Accounting, Journal of Accounting, Auditing & Finance, Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Journal of International Accounting Research, Journal of International Accounting, Auditing & Taxation, Management International Review, Journal of Business Ethics, among others.

    Thuy Tran, Research Associate at the Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany. She completed her Ph.D. in sustainability accounting at the University of Kassel. She has been a mentee in the Research Mentoring Scheme of the British Accounting and Finance Association. Her primary research interests are education for sustainable development, environmental management accounting, and accounting for modern slavery. Her research is international in scope and includes studies of innovative pedagogies (animated videos, podcasts, and case studies) as well as on integrating sustainability into accounting curricula in Latin America, Germany, England, and Vietnam. She was awarded a Visiting Professorship at the Externado University of Colombia in 2022. She also won the best Teaching Case Study Award at the 2020 International Food and Agribusiness Management Association Conference. As an emerging scholar, she has actively engaged with international academic communities in various roles, including as a guest speaker at renowned universities (National University of Colombia), an invited reviewer at leading academic journals (Accounting Education), and the chair of an accounting education session (44th Annual Congress of the European Accounting Association).

    Mary Vera-Colina, Migrant woman, mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, mentor, promoter of equity and diversity, explorer of the world, learner. Professional background: Public Accountant and Economist. PhD in Economics, Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela. Associate Professor at the National University of Colombia, in financial accounting courses and research seminars. Some networks and communities: INTERGES, CONTOD@S, QRCA, REDCOFIN and others. Research topics: Management in MSMEs, Business and accounting education, Gender studies. She actively participates in projects that promote inclusion and diversity.

    Moderator:

    Claudio Wanderley, Associate Professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil. He is member of the board of directors of the European Accounting Association (EAA, Central & South America representative). He is the former Director of Institutional Relations of the Brazilian Accounting Association (ANPCONT), and former member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Accounting Education and Research (IAEER), and the American Accounting Association (AAA) Global Engagement Committee. He is associate editor of the ‘Contabilidade e Finanças’ Journal. He has had a number of research projects funded by renowned organizations such as Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). He has published his research in a range of highly rated academic outlets (e.g., Management Accounting Research; Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal; and Accounting Forum).

  • EAA ARC International PhD Visit Scheme – An experience

    My name is Giannis Lessis, and I am a Ph.D. student at the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). During the Autumn semester of 2022/2023, I was a research visitor at Lancaster University (LUMS) supported by EAA ARC Ph.D. International Visit Scheme. The experience was outstanding, and I highly recommend whoever else is interested in pursuing it.

    The benefits of the Ph.D. visit are numerous and on multiple levels. First, I developed my Ph.D. research projects significantly. Specifically, I received valuable feedback from the faculty members on my job market paper by presenting it in an internal seminar. In addition, I thoroughly reviewed my Ph.D. research projects with my visit supervisor, Professor Argyro Panaretou. Moreover, I exchanged ideas, materials, and tools with Lancaster University’s Ph.D. students that are beneficial to improve my research outcome.

    Second, I attended seminars that Lancaster University organizes where external speakers and faculty members present their ongoing research. These seminars allowed me to learn about the topics that prestigious researchers work on and how they approach them. Moreover, they offered to meet the speakers in person and discuss details about their presentations and other research topics.

    Third, Lancaster University offers Ph.D.-level courses, some of which are in alliance with other universities. During my visit, I attended classes at Lancaster and Manchester Universities. I highly recommend them even if someone’s home institution has a similar one. At this level, discussion even on similar topics can be materially incrementally educational under different instructors because their approaches can be from different angles. Overall, the instructors assisted me significantly in understanding in-depth theoretical and technical topics and, more importantly, reviewing thoroughly classic and recent papers to improve my research skills.

    Fourth, the Ph.D. visit offers the opportunity to establish a long-term relationship with the host university and its members. This relationship can be in the form of starting a new research project or/and maintaining a constant channel for discussion on research. Both cases are particularly advantageous during and after the completion of the Ph.D. program.

    Finally, I want to thank Lancaster University and its members because they made my Ph.D. visit great. Thus, I highly recommend it as an excellent option for the host university to whoever is interested in doing a visit.

  • Academic Empathy Dialogue: “Theory and theorizing in accounting”

    The EAA Virtual Activities Committee is pleased to announce a new Academic Empathy Dialogue on the topic of “theory and theorizing in accounting” hosting Alfred Wagenhofer (University of Graz) and David Cooper (University of Alberta), mediated by Eija Vinnari (Tampere University). The event will take place on Zoom on March 14th at 5:00pm Brussels time.

    The recording is available here.

    The notions of theory and theorizing continue to spark debate among accounting scholars. One persistent topic concerns the extent to which accounting can be said to have its own theories. At one extreme are scholars who address theoretical accounting questions using theories based in, for instance, economics, psychology, or sociology. The other extreme is represented by researchers who regard accounting as a distinct domain with its own theories. A second topic of debate focuses on theories imported from other disciplines, with some claiming that the adoption of economics as the primary discipline underlying accounting studies would be most beneficial for theory building, whereas others defend the application of theories drawn from social sciences, media studies, linguistics and so forth. A third debate revolves around the so called “theory is king” thesis, according to which researchers need to constantly strive to make a theoretical contribution to prior research in their conceptual as well as empirical work. Concerns have increasingly been raised about researchers placing too much emphasis on theory development, leading to overly complex theorizing and the neglect of societal and practical considerations.

    Such debates represent key tensions for the development of our field of study, as well as for enhancing the practical and societal contributions of accounting research. Accordingly, this EAA academic empathy conversation will explore questions such as:

    • What is theory – or what is it not?
    • What is meant by ‘theorizing’?
    • Does accounting have its own theories and if so, what are they?
    • How do theories originating in other disciplines help us understand accounting phenomena?
    • To what extent does the ‘theory is king’ thesis hold in accounting research? Is there any cause for concern?
    • What is the role of theoretical contributions in relation to a study’s practical and societal implications?
    • Which phenomena, if any, are under-theorized in accounting research?

    Background readings

    Abend, G. 2008. The meaning of ‘theory’. Sociological Theory, 26(2), 173-199.

    Sutton, R.I. & Staw, B.M. 1995. What theory is not. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(3), 371-384.

     

     

  • Big Data: game changer for business processes and management accounting

    Recent study uses experimental and textual analyses to understand how managers use big data, e.g., social media, relative to traditional data in their budgeting procedures. In a period of substantial technological change, big data is a game changer for multiple business processes, including management accounting.

     

    Big data and downwards forecasts

    A recent study from the University of St.Gallen, Monash University, Laval University and the University of Melbourne asked: Do managers utilise information collected via social media, for example in their budgeting when they receive negative forecasts? Research shows that there is a reluctance to use information derived from big data when forecasts follow an unexpected downward trend. The study indicates that because managers feel uncomfortable with big data, they are more reluctant to use it in adverse situations.

     

    Interestingly, the difference between how managers use traditional data and big data is negligible when forecasts are moving in a positive direction. It seems that there is less hesitation on the part of managers when dealing with positive trends and that the reluctance to use big data fades.

     

    The difference with experience

    Additional analyses show that the more experience a manager has, (in terms of age and management experience) the more heavily they rely on the forecasting received from big data.

     

    Conclusion

    The results of this study contribute to an understanding of how information collected through big data is being utilized for managerial forecasting purposes. Indeed, management accountants need to be aware of how analytical tools are perceived by managers and used in decision-making.

     

    The study, “Advice Utilization from Predictive Analytics Tools: The Trend is your Friend” was conducted by researchers Dennis Fehrenbacher (St. Gallen University/Monash University), Alessandro Ghio (Laval University) and Michael Weisner (University of Melbourne) and can be found at the European Accounting Review (forthcoming) here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638180.2022.2138934

     

  • 7 observations from a literature review on performance measurement

    What drives the use of performance measurement (PM) systems in the public sector? And what are the effects of PM use? In a recent study in Financial Accountability & Management (Van der Kolk, 2022, open access), I address these questions. I do so by reviewing survey papers on public sector PM published in all major accounting outlets, i.e., 3, 4, and 4* journals from the ABS journal list (2018). In this blog, I highlight seven observations from the review. 

    Observation 1: Public sector PM seems here to stay

    Fuelled by the new public management movement in the end of the 20th century, and crises in the beginning of the 21st century, performance measurement use and research has gained a strong foothold in practice and academia. In the examined survey studies, some evidence of the benefits of mobilizing PM were listed (e.g. enhanced efficiency, motivation, commitment) as reasons to implement PM systems, while respondents from one UK survey indicated that the use of key performance indicators was the single most successful accounting innovation in their organization.

    Observation 2: Three categories of PM antecedents

    One goal of the review was to investigate what drives the use of PM in public sector organizations. Three categories of antecedents were identified: 1) context variables (e.g. competition, political constraints), 2) organization variables (e.g. organizational values, financial stress), and 3) individual-level variables (e.g. respondent role, age, tenure, educational background). All reported antecedents and main effects have been visualized in four maps based on the empirical context of the study (map A: Government, map B: Health, map C: Education, map D: Other settings). Map A is included below (scroll down) and shows antecedents and effects of using PM in government settings (for other maps and for the meaning of the various colors and arrows, see table 1 in the original paper, available here).

    Observation 3: Three categories of PM effects

    Another goal of the review was to map what sorts of effects public sector PM generates. Some studies find evidence that the adoption of a PM system impacts performance, in line with prior research. In the review, a distinction is furthermore made between performance-related effects (e.g., a more detailed PM positively impacts performance in a hospital), other organization-level effects (e.g., ease of use of PM impacts the perceived usefulness of PM practices) and individual level effects (e.g., PM subjectivity negatively impacts trust in a supervisor). It is important to note, however, that there are inherent limits to what can be concluded based on cross-sectional survey studies. Aspects that are not measured or expected do not become visible in quantitative survey studies, and other methods such as qualitative field studies should be used to complement this review to gain a more complet understanding of PM and its effects.

    Source: Van der Kolk (2022, map A). More maps are available in the review paper.

     

    Observation 4: Geographical bias

    Looking at the geographical distribution of the empirical work conducted, it is clear that there is a strong bias towards certain geographical areas. For instance: 69% of the papers include evidence from Europe, 22% from Australia, and 9% from North America and Asia. Countries such as The Netherlands and Norway are well represented, while entire continents such as Africa and South America are absent. Given that culture can impact the effectiveness of management control instruments such as PM (cf. Malmi et al., 2020), a call for more research in “non-Western public sector contexts” (Van der Kolk, 2022, p. 723) therefore seems warranted.

    Observation 5: Where are surveys on public sector PM published?

    Although all 27 accounting journals that are rated 3 or higher in the ABS 2018 journal list were included in the initial search, only 8 journals published survey papers on public sector performance measurement between 1999 and 2018. From these journals, Financial Accountability & Management (17 papers), Accounting, Organizations & Society (4 papers), Management Accounting Research (3 papers) and the European Accounting Review (3 papers) were most strongly represented in the sample. Furthermore, it seems that scholars from the US who study PM publish less often in accounting journals, but rather send their work to outlets in the public management discipline, which may be a reason why also the US is not not strongly represented in this sample.

    Observation 6: Task characteristics matter

    When comparing this review to extant literature reviews from the discipline of public administration, it struck me that accounting scholars often point to task characteristics (e.g., output measurability, contractibility) to explain the effects of PM in different settings, while in the discipline of public administration this factor received considerably less attention. Comparing the two disciplines, it is (mostly) the accounting discipline that continuously stresses the importance of task characteristics to explain why PM yields different results in different settings.

    Observation 7: Gaps and possibilities for future research

    Based on the reviewed survey papers, a few gaps and directions for future research are identified. Among them are: 1) examining non-linear relations among PM and other variables (given that currently most survey studies only test linear relations while there are reasons to believe that these relations may not be linear in reality), 2) examining combinations of PM and other forms of management control ‘as a package’ (given the various calls and the limited evidence available on this topic in public sector organizations), and 3) studying PM in non-Western public sector settings.

    Conclusion: PM, a blessing and/or a curse

    In line with prior research within and outside of the accounting discipline, the findings from this review suggest that there is no easy answer to the question whether PM in the public sector is a blessing or a curse. PM can yield both favorable and unfavorable effects, and this review highlights that PM characteristics such as its perceived fairness, subjectivity and ease of use matter to a great extent for the effects PM can generate. And in line with prior research, much depends on the way how a PM system is used (cf. Van Elten et al., 2021, Gerrish, 2016). PM systems should therefore be handled with care: what you measure isn’t always what you get.

     

     

    Berend van der Kolk is an associate professor of management accounting at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

    This essay is based on the paper “Performance measurement in the public sector: Mapping 20 years of survey research”, published in Financial Accountability & Management (https://doi.org/10.1111/faam.12345).

     

    References
    Gerrish, E. (2016), The Impact of Performance Management on Performance in Public Organizations: A Meta-Analysis. Public Administration Review, 76: 48-66. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12433

    Malmi, T., Bedford, D. S., Brühl, R., Dergård, J., Hoozée, S., Janschek, O., Willert, J., Ax, C., Bednarek, P., Gosselin, M., Hanzlick, M., Israelsen, P., Johanson, D., Johanson, T., Madsen, D. Ø., Rohde, C., Sandelin, M., Strömsten, T., & Toldbod, T. (2020). Culture and management control interdependence: An analysis of control choices that complement the delegation of authority in Western cultural regions. Accounting, Organizations and Society86, [101116]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2020.101116 

    van der Kolk, B. (2022). Performance measurement in the public sector: Mapping 20 years of survey researchFinancial Accountability & Management38703– 729https://doi.org/10.1111/faam.12345

    van Elten, H. J., van der Kolk, B., Sülz, S. (2021). Do different uses of performance measurement systems in hospitals yield different outcomes? Health Care Management Review, 46, 3, 217-226. https://doi.org/10.1097/HMR.0000000000000261

  • Publication outcomes after presenting at the EAA Annual Congress

    by Edith Leung and Jochen Pierk

    December 2022

    One of the most visible activities of the EAA is the Annual Congress, which provides a forum for academics to meet and discuss research. Although the Congress serves many important purposes, such as symposia and networking, a key reason for many academics to attend is to present and receive feedback on ongoing research in one of the scientific sessions. The aim of these sessions is to help authors improve their work-in-progress for eventual publication in an academic journal, yet little is known about eventual publication outcomes following presentation at the Congress.

    In this blog, we share the results of our analyses of publication outcomes for papers presented at the EAA Annual Congress and identify potential areas of improvement for the scientific presentation sessions at the Congress. We believe these insights are interesting for the academic community at large and provide a useful basis for further discussion about the merits of presenting at the Congress. These data were graciously provided to us by the EAA, but any opinions and views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official view of the EAA.

    In the remainder of this paper, we first outline how the EAA sessions and submission process are currently organized. Next, we provide statistics on publication outcomes for differently rated papers and papers in types of sessions. We conclude with several recommendations to further improve the scientific standard at the Congress and give more room to a more diverse set of academics at different stages in their career to attend the Congress.

    Current Setting and Challenges

    The Annual Congress organizes two types of sessions in which academics can present their work: the parallel sessions and research fora. In the current setting, scholars are invited to submit their research in the form of a full paper to the EAA Annual Congress, indicating their method of choice and the research area of the paper. Subsequently, the Standing Scientific Committee (SSC) members responsible for a particular research track allocate two reviewers to each submission. Reviewers assign scores between 1 and 6 and are encouraged to provide written feedback that may be useful to the authors of a paper. Based on these reviews and scores based on the evaluation criteria, the SSC of the EAA then decides upon the acceptance or rejection of papers. Usually, papers that receive a score between 2.5 and 4 are accepted for presentation at the Annual Congress in a Research Forum session (RF, 90 minutes for 5 papers), while papers with a score above 4 enter a Parallel Session (PS, 90 minutes for 3 papers) or Parallel Session with Discussant (PSD, 90 minutes for 2 papers, including an assigned discussant).[1]

    The implicit assumption of the evaluation criteria is that Research Fora allow for the discussion of viable and interesting research projects at an earlier stage, that need further development to be reasonably submitted to a journal. For example, a score of 2 is described as ‘initial work on a potentially viable project, but it is not likely to be ready for submission for some time’. However, based on our anecdotal impressions, the public perception of RF sessions seems to be that they often include low-quality, rather than early-stage, papers. A potential reason is that reviewers are not able to distinguish between an early-stage paper and a low-quality paper (both would be assigned a low grade). As such, one goal of our analyses is to determine whether this perception is supported empirically by worse publication outcomes of papers presented in the RF, and we give recommendations to improve the quality of presentation sessions at the EAA.

    Publication Outcomes of Presented Papers

    Sample

    We start by gathering papers published in the top 15 accounting journals (based on 2020 impact factors) and Accounting in Europe.[2] In total, these 16 journals published 2,366 papers between 2012 and 2021. While this selection does not include all potential target journals, especially topical journals are missing, we believe that it covers at least a relevant set of journals for most scholars, including the journals of the European Accounting Association. 

    We gather the acknowledgments of all these papers from Scopus and scrape the missing acknowledgments from the journal websites. 608 of these publications mention in the acknowledgments that the paper was presented at an EAA conference. We then manually match these 608 publications to the 6,718 EAA conference presentations between 2012 and 2019. In total, we successfully match 418 journal publications to EAA conference presentations. Most of the remaining 190 journal publications that mentioned the EAA in the acknowledgments were presented before 2012, and in a few incidences, we could not find a match.

    Results

    Table 1 shows the number of papers published in the 16 accounting journals with prior EAA presentations separately by journal. As one might expect, the European Accounting Review (EAR) includes most publications with prior EAA presentations, which highlights that authors often present their work at the conference before submitting their paper to the EAR. 

    Table 1: Publications with prior EAA presentation

    Journal Count   Journal Count
    EAR 75   JAE 23
    CAR 63   TAR 21
    ABR 38   BAR 19
    JAR 30   JAPP 16
    JBFA 28   AIE 13
    RAST 28   A&F 9
    AAAJ 27   AH 1
    AOS 26   IS 1

    Note: this table documents the number of publications per journal of papers that mention presentation at the EAA Annual Congress between 2012 and 2019. See footnote 2 for explanation of the abbreviated journal names.

    In Table 2, we document the association between the average reviewer score and the likelihood of publication. We find that the likelihood of publication increases with the reviewer scores, which indicates that reviewers, on average, do a good job of assessing the quality of papers. The reviewer instructions of the EAA include the threshold of an average reviewer score of 4 (called ‘anchor’ on the conference website) to indicate if a paper is ‘ready’ for submission to a journal such as EAR or AIE. While we do not see a clear-cut threshold in the likelihood of publication in Table 2, publication likelihood for papers with scores 4 and above is much higher than for lower-scoring papers. Especially papers that score below 3 are very rarely published in the selected 16 journals. It is important to note that we do not imply that these papers are necessarily of low quality or are never published (e.g., these papers may be published in journals that are not included in our selection). We also caution that these statistics should not be used to determine if a paper has ‘potential’ or not, since many factors determine publication outcomes and reviewer scores are to some extent subjective.   

    Nevertheless, only one paper out of the 883 presented papers with a score below 3 was published in the association’s journals EAR and AIE. It is reasonable to assume that the paper quality was often not sufficient for high-quality journals, in line with the conference reviewers’ assessment that these papers are not ready for submission. In unreported analyses, we also do not find that these papers are published with delay. Taken together, these statistics indicate that the quality of low-scoring papers is, on average, too low to warrant publication in these journals.

    Table 2: Publications by Reviewer Score

    SCORE PAPER PUBLISHED (%)   SCORE PAPER PUBLISHED (%)
    1.5 3 0 (0.00)    4 1337 98 (7.33)
    2 24 0 (0.00)   4.5 1036 107 (10.33)
    2.5 856 9 (1.05)   5 577 68 (11.79)
    3 1203 29 (2.41)   5.5 245 41 (16.73)
    3.5 1387 53 (3.82)   6 50 13 (26.00)

    Note: this table presents the count of papers by reviewer score that were presented at the EAA Annual Congress between 2012 and 2019, and the number (percentage) of papers by reviewer score that are eventually published in the journals listed in footnote 3.

    Recommendations

    Better distinction between early-stage and developed papers

    Our analyses suggest that publication likelihood increases with reviewer scores, suggesting that reviewers do a good job of assessing the quality of papers. At the same time, the evaluation criteria and score descriptions provided to reviewers indicate that lower scores should primarily reflect the development stage of the paper. However, low-scoring papers are rarely published in academic journals, rather than published at an equal rate but with a longer delay. Hence, it highlights that the current review system does not allow reviewers to differentiate the development stage of a paper from its underlying quality. To more effectively do so, we suggest adjusting the scoring and acceptance criteria and submission system to better distinguish early-stage and more developed papers as follows:

    • Allow authors and ask reviewers to indicate whether a paper is early-stage work or a developed paper (the latter to corroborate authors’ assessment).[3] Early-stage work would be more in the form of proposals (e.g., a short document with a page limit that explains the what-why-how of a paper, with some preliminary results). Full paper submissions should be papers that could reasonably be submitted to a journal such as EAR (including all relevant sections of the paper).
    • Conditional on whether a paper is early-stage or fully developed, reviewers can then assess the likelihood of publication in a good outlet such as EAR as in the previous scoring system. The simple differentiation between early-stage and developed papers should enhance the SSC’s ability to compile a program that only accepts papers that are of sufficient quality, independent of its current development stage. The exact thresholds that determine inclusion in a presentation session should ensure that access to the EAA Annual Congress remains fair and achievable for a diverse set of academics.
    • In addition, the explicit allowance for early-stage work may also encourage authors to submit work that fits these criteria (i.e., increasing the number of submissions), which could offset the higher rate of rejection in fully developed but lower-quality papers.
    • Furthermore, early-stage projects benefit from timely feedback, which could be especially interesting to Ph.D. students and researchers at the beginning of their careers.

    Parallel sessions vs. research fora

    Although the research fora are not intended to be “lower quality” sessions but an outlet for discussing earlier-stage work, anecdotal evidence suggests that some academics view research fora as inferior to parallel sessions. To level the playing field, some suggestions below:

    • To combat the negative connotation with research fora that some authors and academics have, we would recommend replacing research fora with so-called “early-stage parallel sessions”. Early-stage parallel sessions would still include 4-5 papers, similar to the number in the current research fora, but together with the previous recommendation of revising the submission system, we can signal to our academic community that there is a real change and improvement in the sessions at EAA.
    • Moreover, we recommend introducing discussants for early-stage parallel sessions, since early-stage work, in particular, would benefit from elaborate feedback from a well-prepared discussant. Next to the opportunity for high-quality feedback from a discussant, the introduction of discussants at early-stage presentations is valuable for the network of presenters at such sessions, since these presenters are potentially more likely to be in earlier stages of their career (e.g., PhD students).
    • In short, the proposed set-up would be to have 90-minute sessions divided as follows:
      • Full paper session with discussant (PSD) including 2 papers per session.
      • Full paper session (PS) including 3 papers per session.
      • Early-stage parallel session with discussant (ESPSD) including 3 papers per session.
      • Early-stage parallel session (ESPS) including 4 to 5 papers per session.

    We recognize these suggestions are subject to organizational feasibility (e.g., room constraints at the hosting venue, or ability to organize more sessions to accommodate the ESPSD proposal). However, we believe that the first step of revising the submission process to screen for paper quality more effectively, together with the introduction of ESPS(D), should result in a similar number of submissions and presentations, reducing the practical challenges of implementing these recommendations. Moreover, we also hope these suggestions will also help increase access to the EAA Annual Congress for a more diverse set of academics.

     

    [1] See: https://eaa-online.org/congress-2022/submission-review-process/

    [2] These journals are: Accounting and Business Research (ABR), Accounting, Auditing, and Accountability Journal (AAAJ), Accounting and Finance (A&F), Accounting Horizon (AH), Accounting in Europe (AIE), Accounting Organization and Society (AOS), British Accounting Review (BAR), Contemporary Accounting Research (CAR), European Accounting Review (EAR), International Journal of Accounting Information Systems (IS), Journal of Business Finance & Accounting (JBFA), Journal of Accounting and Economics (JAE), Journal of Accounting and Public Policy (JAPP), Journal of Accounting Research (JAR), Review of Accounting Studies (RAST), and The Accounting Review (TAR).

    [3] One potential problem with the suggested set-up is that authors might try to ‘game’ the system and submit their fully developed paper to the early-stage sessions to increase the likelihood of acceptance. However, we believe that this is not problematic as reviewers will likely also assign a low score for the early-stage session if the paper lacks contribution. Furthermore, even in the current set-up, these papers would likely be accepted for the research forum.

     

  • Can Corporate ESG Reports Tackle ESG Ratings Confusion?

    Investors are increasingly incorporating assessments of companies’ performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) dimensions in their portfolio decisions. The global assets under management of the signatories of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) has grown from about US$20 trillion in 2010 to about US$121 trillion in 2021.[1]

    Similar to traditional investors’ reliance on sell-side analysts and credit rating agencies as information intermediaries, socially responsible investors rely on ESG rating agencies as information intermediaries that gather and summarize information about a firm’s ESG performance. Some of the more prominent ESG rating agencies include: MSCI (KLD), Refinitiv, Sustainalytics, RepRisk, S&P Global, Bloomberg, FTSE Russell, ISS Global.[2] The number and influence of ESG rating agencies have grown significantly in recent years, reflecting the rise of socially responsible investment. However, there is widespread disagreement in ESG ratings due to a variety of reasons such as methodological differences[3] and the lack of unified standards.[4] Investors cite inconsistency among ESG ratings as one of the top barriers for making ESG investment decisions.[5] In addition, in our new study “Does Voluntary ESG Reporting Resolve Disagreement Among ESG Rating Agencies?[6] recently published in the European Accounting Review, we find that ESG disagreement is positively associated with disagreement and uncertainty in the capital market. Thus, managers have strong incentives to take actions to reduce ESG disagreement.

    Just as management forecasts and conference calls have arisen to provide greater transparency about a firm’s fundamentals, voluntary ESG reports have emerged to provide greater transparency about a firm’s ESG performance. The number of ESG reports issued by U.S. public companies increased from about less than 500 in 2010 to more than 2,100 in 2021, according to Corporate Register.[7] Investors cite these reports as the top source of ESG information.[8] Our study examines whether the effectiveness of voluntary disclosure in resolving disagreement among capital market information intermediaries extends to the ESG context.

    Consistent with this possibility, we provide the first evidence that managementprovided ESG disclosure is associated with lower disagreement among ESG raters in the U.S., where ESG reporting is voluntary. We find that disagreement among ESG rating agencies is lower for firms that voluntarily issue ESG reports. Our evidence demonstrates the beneficial role of these voluntary disclosures for the intended audience of these reports—those that care about and monitor firms’ ESG performance. Using textual analysis, we find that longer reports are associated with reduced disagreement among ESG raters while reports with more positive tones or that use a greater number of sticky words are associated with heightened disagreement. These findings highlight the importance of managers’ linguistic choices in mitigating disagreement among ESG raters, which responds to the general call for research that uses textual analysis to measure the information content of ESG reports (Ballou, Casey, Genier, and Heitger, 2012)[9] and contributes to the literature on the qualitative and textual features of firm disclosures (e.g., Dyer, Lang, and Stice-Lawrence, 2017).[10] Moreover, the association between ESG disclosure and ESG disagreement is more pronounced when firms obtain third-party attestations on their ESG reports, especially from accounting firms. This finding resolves the mixed evidence from prior research on the value of external assurance in the ESG context (e.g., Michelon, Pilonato, and Ricceri, 2015)[11] and answers the calls for research on the benefits of obtaining assurance from accounting firms in the ESG context (Ballou et al., 2012; Pflugrath, Roebuck, and Simnett, 2011).[12] Taken collectively, our in-depth content analysis of ESG reports provides actionable insights and practical implications to managers about specific ESG disclosure choices they can make to reduce ESG disagreement among rating agencies.

    In addition, we find that the adoption of advanced levels of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting standards promotes greater consensus among ESG raters, which should be of interest to standard setters who wish to promote best practices in ESG reporting in the U.S. Specifically, the finding highlights the benefit of a reporting framework that organizes and contextualizes ESG information, contributing to the debate on whether the U.S. should adopt mandatory rules for ESG reporting (Christensen, Hail, and Leuz, 2021).[13]

    Furthermore, we document that the negative association between ESG disclosure and disagreement is more pronounced for firms in environmentally sensitive industries, demonstrating the role of external pressure in eliciting high quality ESG disclosures and answering Rupley, Brown, and Marshall (2012)[14]’s call for papers that investigate environmental matters. Moreover, utilizing textual analysis, we further document that disclosures about the environmental and social dimensions help reduce disagreement about the company’s performance on those dimensions. However, disclosures about corporate governance in an ESG report do not reduce disagreement about a company’s governance performance, likely because the SEC requires the U.S. companies to disclose extensive governance information in their filings (e.g., proxy statements), which substitutes for governance disclosures in voluntary ESG reports.

    Finally, we show the economic importance of reducing ESG disagreement. Specifically, our finding that ESG disagreement is associated with uncertainty in the capital market provides new evidence on the long-debated question of whether ESG is value relevant. Combined with our finding that ESG disclosure is negatively associated with ESG disagreement, we also highlight a specific channel for Dhaliwal, Li, Tsang, and Yang (2011)[15]’s evidence of a negative association between ESG disclosures and cost of capital.

     

    This paper is forthcoming in the European Accounting Review – https://doi.org/10.1080/09638180.2022.2088588 .

     

     

    [1] https://www.unpri.org/about-us/about-the-pri

    [2] https://www.esganalytics.io/insights/top-10-esg-data-providers

    [3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/esg-ratings-investing-data-raters-11667229384

    [4] https://www.sustainability.com/thinking/rating-the-raters-yet-again-six-challenges-for-esg-ratings/

    [5] https://www.capitalgroup.com/content/dam/cgc/tenants/eacg/esg/global-study/esg-global-study-2022-full-report(en).pdf

    [6] Kimbrough, M. D., Wang, X., Wei, S., and Zhang, J. (2022). Does voluntary ESG reporting resolve disagreement among ESG rating agencies?. European Accounting Review, 1-33.

    [7] Corporate Register (https://www.corporateregister.com/) is a leading vendor that collects ESG reports issued by companies around the world.

    [8] https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/corporate-reporting/assets/pwc-global-investor-survey-2021.pdf

    [9] Ballou B., Casey R. J., Grenier J. H., and Heitger, D. L. (2012). Exploring the strategic integration of sustainability initiatives: opportunities for accounting research. Accounting Horizons, 26(2), 265–288.

    [10] Dyer, T., Lang, M., and Stice-Lawrence, L. (2017). The evolution of 10-K textual disclosure: Evidence from Latent Dirichlet Allocation. Journal of Accounting and Economics, 64(2-3), 221–245.

    [11] Michelon, G., Pilonato, S., and Ricceri, F. (2015). CSR reporting practices and the quality of disclosure: An empirical analysis. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 33, 59–78.

    [12] Pflugrath, G., Roebuck, P., and Simnett, R. (2011). Impact of assurance and assurer’s professional affiliation on financial analysts’ assessment of credibility of corporate social responsibility information. Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory, 30(3), 239–254.

    [13] Christensen, H. B., Hail, L., and Leuz, C. (2021). Mandatory CSR and sustainability reporting: economic analysis and literature review. Review of Accounting Studies, 26(3), 1176-1248.

    [14] Rupley, K. H., Brown, D., and Marshall, R. S. (2012). Governance, media and the quality of environmental disclosure. Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, 31(6), 610–640.

    [15] Dhaliwal, D. S., Li, O. Z., Tsang, A., and Yang, Y. G. (2011). Voluntary nonfinancial disclosure and the cost of equity capital: The initiation of corporate social responsibility reporting. The Accounting Review, 86(1), 59–100.

  • Complexity European Sustainability Reporting Standards overwhelming

    The proposed ESG reporting standards presented by the EU last week are overwhelming. I advocate to limit reporting requirements to two metrics: profit and emission reductions.

    Last week, EFRAG published the first version of the European Sustainability Reporting Standards. The set of standards describes in detail the topics that companies report on and also obliges them to develop targets that define the company’s ambition.

    The ESG metrics are presented in 15 appendices spanning many hundreds of pages. About fifty metrics focus on every company in general and dozens of other metrics are industry-specific. The metrics are intended to ensure that firms on balance create social value to society.

    Research by George Miller from 1956 established that a human being can hold five to seven metrics simultaneously. In their April 2004 Nature publication, Edward Vogel and Maro Machizawa confirm this finding. The five versus fifty plus yardstick comparison presents us with a problem. Can company leaders and investors be expected to oversee fifty-plus -de facto hundreds of- metrics on their development and outcomes?

    Recent research on ESG metrics by Jurian Berg and colleagues shows that rating agencies differ widely on how the metrics add up to determine whether a company is performing favorably or unfavorably on ESG. Rajna Gibson Brandon and colleagues find that such confusion gives “green funds” reasons to make investments that would fail to meet the “green test”.

    As results on ESG metrics suggests it is unlikely for anyone to appreciate the full set of measures let alone that society agrees on what measures are relevant. Of course, employees can be appointed within the companies, each of whom controls part of the metrics from the system. However, the question is how these are related to each other? An example.

    Companies must report on non-recycled waste. Suppose we make an employee responsible for waste reduction. The employee goes to work and manages to reduce waste by 50 percent. However, the reduction does mean that from now on raw materials will have to come from the other side of the world, while they are now sourced from a nearby company. The reduction in waste then leads to an increase in scope 3 emissions because the goods have to be transported over thousands of kilometers instead of a few. In addition, it must then be determined whether there is a risk that the goods were produced by underpaid employees or by slaves.

    Every metric in the EFRAG system is connected to all other metrics which makes the system unfathomable and society would  therefore be better off to have one metric that captures all contributions and withdrawals from society by the organization. This metric exists in theory: Economic Profit. In practice, we come across this metric under the name of residual income and this metric differs from Economic profit because not all contributions or withdrawals from society are reflected in the metric in time or in full. For example, we do not see the social costs of pollution reflected in the price of kerosene. The profit that Shell reports to make on kerosene is incomplete and Shell’s scope 1 reporting should provide clarity in this. The question now is whether we are indeed better off with the reporting system that EFRAG wants to introduce?

    Given the fact that individual metrics are intertwined we seem to be getting out of hand with the reports proposed by EFRAG. We will soon be receiving extended ESG reports, but due to the combination of (1) the limited processing capacity of employees described by Miller and (2) the fact that all metrics are interrelated, it is highly questionable whether we can really make progress with the proposed level of detail. No one will be able to comprehend the full system metrics.

    In that context,  EFRAG had better come up with overarching criteria with which the firms can assure that it is on the right track of emission reduction. For example, one can imagine that a company is asked to indicate how the investments of 2022 at what time in percentage points compared to 2021 have resulted in a CO2 reduction. Companies could also be obliged to submit the same report on other pollutants. Such a system would lead not only to fewer metrics but also to more encompassing metrics that directly take issue with emissions for which reductions are essential.

    Finally, the question is whether Social and Governance have only taken into account the urgency of greenhouse gases in the system, should that perhaps be a priority and should we use S (license to operate according to the buyer and supplier) and G (for finance). The S and G already exist on a voluntary basis and it would be good to keep them. It really is enough if we use two measures, profit and emissions!

    Jan Bouwens

    Professor of accounting

    University of Amsterdam

    Research fellow at the University of Cambridge

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