Revision requested at the Journal of Business Ethics (a Financial Times top 50 journal)
(AUTHORS: MARTIN MUTSCHMANN, TIM HASSO AND MATTHIAS PELSTER)
Every now and then, we observe corporate accounting scandals that annihilate billions of market capitalization. Examples of these are numerous, with the Wirecard scandal being the most recent, and earlier scandals including Enron and WorldCom. In general, corporate fraud is a topic that draws constant attention from the public, regulatory bodies, and academia. However, most of the time, the attention starts too late, namely after the costs for shareholders, creditors, and employees, and possibly society of a large fraud case are already in the millions.
These large scale accounting scandals often involve top managers who are responsible for initiating, maintaining, and hiding these fraudulent practices for long periods of time. For any individual to successfully keep up a long-ranging fraud, it can be argued, requires certain predispositions. Unethical decision-making, lying for one's own gain, a sense of superiority and lack of guilt and remorse are all consequences of being a dark-triad personality. According to psychology research, such traits are particularly prevalent among fraud offenders.
In this project, we use theory and measures from personality psychology to investigate the effects of management personality traits on fraudulent accounting practices. We find a strong positive relationship between dark triad personality traits of managers and accounting manipulation. Our results indicate that for a one-unit increase in the dark triad score, the odds of engaging in fraudulent accounting increase by a factor of 2.49.
We also find that traditional risk control mechanisms such as internal audit departments staffed with internal personnel and whistleblower regulations do not easily mitigate these practices. However, having an independent and outsourced internal audit function helps to successfully curb accounting fraud. Specifically, such an externally staffed audit function leads to a roughly 60% decrease of the negative impact of managers with dark triad personality on companies' accounting practices. Consequently, having externals perform the task provides a safeguard against such manipulation. This finding has strong practical implications as it provides support for outsourcing such activities rather than keeping them in-house.