We show that conservative financial reporting arises naturallyin principal-agent settings as a means of efficiently motivating agentswhen the penalties that can be imposed on agents are limited. Weconsider an accounting system whose reports are used for contracting andwhose parameters are controlled by the principal. One advantage of our model is that the information system we describe has the accountingcharacteristic of mapping unbiased underlying information about the firminto a reduced message space. The principal can choose how that mappingoperates, i.e., conservatively, liberally, or neutrally. When penaltiesare sufficiently limited (a limited liability setting), we show that theaccounting system designed by the principal is always conservative. Alternatively, in an unlimited liability setting, any bias in the systemdepends on random circumstances, and we would not expect accountingconservatism to arise as a pervasive and enduring phenomenon.
Review of Accounting Studies – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 3, 2004
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