No. 26: Cost of debt for private firms revisited: Voluntary audits as a reflection of risk
This study examines the relation between voluntary audit and the cost of debt in private firms. We use a sample of 4,058 small private firms operating in the period 2006‐2017 that are not subject to mandatory audits. Firms decide for a voluntary audit of financial statements either because the economic setting in which they operate effectively forces them to do so (e.g., ownership complexity, export‐oriented supply chain, subsidiary status) or because firm fundamentals and/or financial reporting practices limit their access to financial debt, both reflected in earnings quality. We use these factors to model the decision for voluntary audit. In the outcome analyses, we find robust evidence that voluntary audits are associated with higher, rather than lower, interest rate by up to 3.0 percentage points. This effect is present regardless of the perceived audit quality (Big‐4 vs. non‐Big‐4), but is stronger for non‐Big‐4 audits where auditees have a stronger position relative to auditors. Audited firms’ earnings are less informative about future operating performance relative to unaudited counterparts. We conclude that voluntary audits facilitate access to financial debt for firms with higher risk that may otherwise have no access to this form of financing. The price paid is reflected in higher interest rates charged to firms with voluntary audits – firms with higher information and/or fundamental risk.