Abstract

Hady O Abo Zaid
PERSONAL VARIABLES, ORGANISATIONAL VARIABLES, and MORAL INTENSITY DIMENSIONS UNDERLYING EXTERNAL AUDITORS’ ETHICAL DECISION MAKING: EGYPTIAN EVIDENCE
Academic and professional attention towards ethics in business in general and audit ethics in particular has grown significantly following well-documented audit failures and corporate scandals. Several empirical studies have been carried out to investigate the factors underlying such auditors’ ethics. The majority has been done in the USA and other developed countries, often using undergraduate student convenience samples. They have provided clearly mixed results and have tended to focus on only one two stages of the ethical decision making (EDM) model devised by Rest (1986). This study sought to build and improve on the previous research by investigating the impact of a broad set of personal, organisational, and issue-specific variables on three stages of external auditors’ EDM process. Moreover, it did so in a developing country, namely Egypt, which is the largest country by population in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This study hypothesised that personal variables (gender, age, educational level, position level, work experience, certification status, professional commitment, and personal moral philosophy), organisational variables (code of ethics, firms size, ethical climate types), and moral intensity dimensions are significantly related to the different stages of external auditors’ EDM process. Using a relatively large sample, data was collected via a questionnaire which include four context-based external audit ethics scenarios. An adapted Arabic version of the questionnaire translated using translation-back translation technique was administered to Egyptian participants and usable responses were received from 393 external auditors working for 19 international audit firms in Egypt. For each scenario, the EDM process was examined in terms of the recognition, judgment and intention stages of Rest’s model. While moral intensity was originally conceptualised as a six-dimensional construct, factor analysis revealed only two dimensions, which were named ‘perceived social pressure’ and ‘actual harm’. Results show that these two dimensions, particularly social pressure, are the strongest predictors of auditors’ three stages of EDM. Ethical climate types and personal moral philosophy also showed some significant results. Significant and positive results were also found regarding firm size, work experience, position level, and certification status. However, findings revealed that age, educational level, code of ethics, and professional commitment have very limited impact on auditors’ EDM stages. Interestingly, when gender differences were found, male auditors exhibited more ethical choices than females. Findings reinforces the need to give more attention to auditors’ socialisation and training, as well as the importance of continuing professional education to enhance auditors’ EDM abilities. Egyptian audit firms should also pay more attention to their organisational ethical infrastructure and maintain an organisational consensus regarding unethical acts. Using alternative methodologies and inclusion of the ethical behaviour stage in future studies, may aid future research in complementing these results, thus provide an enhanced understanding of auditors’ ethical decisions. At the very least, future studies should study all the first three stages, as in this research, rather than focusing on only one two stages. Additionally, cross-cultural audit ethics studies represent a fruitful avenue for future research. The questionnaire used in this study could be used, with minimal adaptations, in other countries.