Employee Profile

Marleen Willekens

Adjunct Professor - Department of Accounting and Operations Management


Pruijssers, Jorien; Simac, Ines & Willekens, Marleen (2023)

Strength of Audit Firms’ Human Resource Systems and Client-Level Audit Outcomes: Evidence from a Multiple Source Study

Accounting Horizons Doi: 10.2308/HORIZONS-2021-150

We examine whether differences in HR systems among audit firms can affect client-level audit outcomes. Based on the audit quality framework of Knechel, Krishnan, Pevzner, Shefchik, and Velury (2013b) and the strategic HRM literature, we posit that audit firms with stronger HR systems are likely to deliver more desired audit outcomes, ceteris paribus. Building on systems theory, we outline and capture a wholistic picture of the audit firm HR system as consisting of three dimensions: competency-, motivation-, and opportunity-enhancing practices. We draw on two distinct data sources for our analyses: a survey allowing us to tap into the HR systems of large audit firms servicing PIE clients in The Netherlands and corresponding client-level archival data to measure audit outcomes. Our results suggest that HR systems are an internal context factor affecting client-level audit outcomes. Supplemental analyses indicate that competency- and opportunity-enhancing HR practices are associated with more desirable audit outcomes.

Dekeyser, Simon; Gaeremynck, Ann, Knechel, W. Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2021)

The Impact of Partners’ Economic Incentives on Audit Quality in Big 4 Partnerships

Accounting Review, 96(6), s. 129- 152. Doi: 10.2308/TAR-2018-0109 - Full text in research archive

Economic incentives are fundamental for understanding auditor behavior. In this paper, we investigate the association between the extent of partners’ fee-based compensation, partners’ observable net wealth, and audit quality. Using a sample of Belgian Big 4 audit firms and their predominantly private clients, our results suggest a negative association between audit quality and partner fee-based compensation, and a positive association between audit quality and partner observable net wealth. Moreover, our results show that the latter association is most significant when a partner is carrying a lot of debt, which indicates that a partner’s financial situation may affect audit quality. The extent of fee-based incentives also varies among partners of the same audit firm. Furthermore, partner and client characteristics differ based on the extent of fee-based compensation. Our findings should be of interest to regulators and audit firms as they suggest that audit partner’s economic incentives significantly affect audit quality.

Dekeyser, Simon; Gaeremynck, Ann, Knechel, W. Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2021)

Multimarket Contact and Mutual Forbearance in Audit Markets

Journal of Accounting Research, 59(5), s. 1651- 1688. Doi: 10.1111/1475-679X.12406 - Full text in research archive

Competition in audit markets is an important topic but direct tests of market competition have been limited. In this paper, we examine how audit firms behave when they are confronted with competition from another firm in a wide range of industry segments in a local market. Sharing a large number of market segments can lead to mutual forbearance among audit rivals. Such mutual forbearance is likely to manifest as higher audit fees in a market because rivals are hesitant to aggressively compete in the face of potential competitive retaliation. Using a sample of 25,662 observations from 2004 to 2015, we find evidence that supports this argument as proxied by the extent that audit firms compete in the same industries in the same locations. This result persists after controlling for several tight fixed-effects specifications based on time, location, industry, and market segments. In supplementary tests, we also find that the likelihood of client switching is negatively associated with the multi-industry contact of the incumbent, but clients that do switch are more likely to choose an alternative audit firm that confronts the predecessor auditor in fewer market segments. Our evidence is consistent with mutual forbearance among rival audit firms when confronted with the same competitor in different market segments.

Averhals, Liesbeth; Van Caneghem, Tom & Willekens, Marleen (2020)

Mandatory audit fee disclosure and price competition in the private client segment of the audit market.

Journal of International Accounting, Auditing and Taxation, 40 Doi: 10.1016/j.intaccaudtax.2020.100337 - Full text in research archive

This study empirically examines whether mandatory audit fee disclosure affects audit pric-ing and price competition in the private client segment of the Belgian audit market. Weexpect price competition between auditors to intensify after mandatory public disclosureof audit fees because transparency of audit fee information is likely to increase client bar-gaining power and/or increase competitive pressure. Using a data set including both pre-and post-disclosure audit fees of private clients, we observe that subsequent to mandatorydisclosure of audit fees, clients with positive (negative) abnormal audit fees experience adownward (upward) fee adjustment. Consistent with increased price competition followingmandatory audit fee disclosure, clients with negative abnormal audit fees are better able tomitigate the upward fee adjustment if they have higher bargaining power or have an audi-tor facing stronger competitive pressure. These effects are largest in the initial disclosureyear, suggesting anticipatory price adjusting behavior by audit firms.

Willekens, Marleen; Dekeyser, Simon, Bruynseels, Liesbeth & Numan, Wieteke (2020)

Auditor Market Power and Audit Quality Revisited: Effects of Market Concentration, Market Share Distance, and Leadership

Journal of Accounting, Auditing and Finance Doi: 10.1177/0148558X20966249 - Full text in research archive

This study examines whether auditor market power is associated with audit quality. Regulators around the world have repeatedly expressed concerns about the high levels of supplier concentration, the limited number of audit suppliers in the audit market, and the potential adverse consequences of their (alleged) market power. Using U.S. data from 2009 to 2017, we examine the effect on audit quality of two competing measures of auditor market power: (a) a “traditional” market concentration measure (Herfindahl index) and (b) a competing measure derived from spatial competition theory (i.e., market share distance from the closest competitor). Following Aobdia, we infer audit quality from two measures of financial reporting quality: (a) the level of absolute abnormal accruals, and (b) the incidence of financial statement restatements. Our results indicate that industry market share distance is positively associated with audit quality, but we do not find an association between market concentration and audit quality. In addition, we find that the positive association between market share distance and audit quality only holds when the incumbent auditor is a market leader, although industry leadership itself is not significantly associated with audit quality. These findings suggest that audit quality is positively affected by a market leader’s industry market share dominance over its competitors rather than by industry specialization per se.

Langli, John Christian & Willekens, Marleen (2018)

The Economics of Auditor Regulation

Sasson, Amir (red.). At the Forefront, Looking Ahead: Research-Based Answers to Contemporary Uncertainties of Management

Dekeyser, Simon; Gaeremynck, Ann & Willekens, Marleen (2018)

Evidence of Industry Scale Effects on Audit Hours, Billing Rates, and Pricing

Contemporary Accounting Research Doi: 10.1111/1911-3846.12460 - Full text in research archive

Using a proprietary dataset consisting of all private firm audit engagements in 2000 from one Big 4 firm in Belgium, we investigate: (1) whether audit office industry scale is associated with a reduction of total, partner and staff audit hours and thus with efficiency gains triggered by organizational learning from servicing more clients in an industry; and (2) whether the extent of efficiency pass‐on from the auditor to its clients depends on the audit firm's market power. We find that auditor office industry scale is associated with efficiency gains and a reduction of the variable costs (i.e., fewer total audit hours, partner hours, and staff hours), ceteris paribus. Our results also suggest that, on average, realized efficiencies are entirely passed on as evidenced by a non‐significant effect of auditor industry scale on the auditor's billing rate. Furthermore, we find that the extent of the efficiency pass‐on decreases with the market power of the audit firm in the industry market segment as we document a higher billing rate for auditors with high market power (versus low market power). In addition, we find that the lower audit hours associated with auditor industry scale do not compromise audit quality.

Dutillieux, Wouter; Francis, Jere R. & Willekens, Marleen (2016)

The Spillover of SOX on Earnings Quality in Non-U.S. Jurisdictions

Accounting Horizons, 30(1), s. 23- 39. Doi: 10.2308/acch-51241

Linden, Christophe Van; Knechel, Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2017)

Engagement team composition, audit production and audit quality

[Academic lecture]. University of Bolzano Seminar Series.

Langli, John Christian & Willekens, Marleen (2017)

Tax Avoidance, Ownership Patterns and High-Quality Auditing in Private Firms.

[Academic lecture]. EARNet 2017.

Linden, Christophe Van; Knechel, Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2016)

Engagement team composition, audit production and audit quality

[Academic lecture]. 22nd Annual Auditing Section Midyear Meeting of the American Accounting Association (AAA).

Linden, Christophe Van; Knechel, Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2016)

Engagement team composition, audit production and audit quality

[Academic lecture]. 22nd Annual International Symposium on Auditing Research (ISAR).

Linden, Christophe Van; Knechel, Robert & Willekens, Marleen (2015)

Engagement team composition, audit production and audit quality

[Academic lecture]. City University London, Cass Business School, Seminar Series.

Linden, Christophe Van & Willekens, Marleen (2014)

Do audit firms’ human capital metrics signal audit quality?

[Academic lecture]. 37th Annual Congress European Accounting Association (EAA).

Linden, Christophe Van & Willekens, Marleen (2013)

The relationship between human resource practices and audit quality

[Academic lecture]. 19th Annual Auditing Section Midyear Meeting of the American Accounting Association (AAA).

Academic Degrees
Year Academic Department Degree
1995 University of Warwick, Warwick Business School Ph.D.
1987 University of Gent M.A. in Business Economics
1985 University of Gent B.A. in Economics
Work Experience
Year Employer Job Title
2012 - Present BI Norwegian Business School Adjunct professor
2009 - Present KULeuven Chair of the Department of Accounting, Finance and Insurance (AFI),
2008 - Present KULeuven Professor of Accounting and Auditing
2006 - 2008 Tilburg University Professor of Auditing
2003 - 2006 KULeuven Professor of Accounting and Auditing
1998 - 2003 KULeuven Associate Professor of Accounting
1995 - 1997 KULeuven Assistant Professor of Accounting
1988 - 1989 Bank Brussels Lambert (ING) Analyst