Blockchain technology: Disruptor or enhancer to the accounting and auditing profession
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15531
The unique features of blockchain technology (BCT) - peer-to-peer network, distribution ledger, consensus decision-making, transparency, immutability, auditability, and cryptographic security - coupled with the success enjoyed by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have encouraged many to assume that the technology would revolutionise virtually all aspects of business. A growing body of scholarship suggests that BCT would disrupt the accounting and auditing fields by changing accounting practices, disintermediating auditors, and eliminating financial fraud. BCT disrupts audits (Lombard et al.,2021), reduces the role of audit firms (Yermack 2017), undermines accountants' roles with software developers and miners (Fortin & Pimentel 2022); eliminates many management functions, transforms businesses (Tapscott & Tapscott, 2017), facilitates a triple-entry accounting system (Cai, 2021), and prevents fraudulent transactions (Dai, et al., 2017; Rakshit et al., 2022). Despite these speculations, scholars have acknowledged that the application of BCT in the accounting and assurance industry is underexplored and many existing studies are said to lack engagement with practitioners (Dai & Vasarhelyi, 2017; Lombardi et al., 2021; Schmitz & Leoni, 2019). This study empirically explored whether BCT disrupts or enhances accounting and auditing fields. It also explored the relevance of audit in a BCT environment and the effectiveness of the BCT mechanism for fraud prevention and detection. The study further examined which technical skillsets accountants and auditors require in a BCT environment, and explored the incentives, barriers, and unintended consequences of the adoption of BCT in the accounting and auditing professions. The current COVID-19 environment was also investigated in terms of whether the pandemic has improved BCT adoption or not. A qualitative exploratory study used semi-structured interviews to engage practitioners from blockchain start-ups, IT experts, financial analysts, accountants, auditors, academics, organisational leaders, consultants, and editors who understood the technology. With the aid of NVIVO qualitative analysis software, the views of 44 participants from 13 countries: New Zealand, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and South Africa were analysed. The Technological, Organisational, and Environmental (TOE) framework with consequences of innovation context was adopted for this study. This expanded TOE framework was used as the theoretical lens to understand the disruption of BCT and its adoption in the accounting and auditing fields. Four clear patterns emerged. First, BCT is an emerging tool that accountants and auditors use mainly to analyse financial records because technology cannot disintermediate auditors from the financial system. Second, the technology can detect anomalies but cannot prevent financial fraud. Third, BCT has not been adopted by any organisation for financial reporting and accounting purposes, and accountants and auditors do not require new skillsets or an understanding of the BCT programming language to be able to operate in a BCT domain. Fourth, the advent of COVID-19 has not substantially enhanced the adoption of BCT. Additionally, this study highlights the incentives, barriers, and unintended consequences of adopting BCT as financial technology (FinTech). These findings shed light on important questions about BCT disrupting and disintermediating auditors, the extent of adoption in the accounting industry, preventing fraud and anomalies, and underscores the notion that blockchain, as an emerging technology, currently does not appear to be substantially disrupting the accounting and auditing profession. This study makes methodological, theoretical, and practical contributions. At the methodological level, the study adopted the social constructivist-interpretivism paradigm with an exploratory qualitative method to engage and understand BCT as a disruptive innovation in the accounting industry. The engagement with practitioners from diverse fields, professions, and different countries provides a distinctive and innovative contribution to methodological and practical knowledge. At the theoretical level, the findings contribute to the literature by offering an integrated conceptual TOE framework. The framework offers a reference for practitioners, academics and policymakers seeking to appraise comprehensive factors influencing BCT adoption and its likely unintended consequences. The findings suggest that, at present, no organisations are using BCT for financial reporting and accounting systems. This study contributes to practice by highlighting the differences between initial expectations and practical applications of what BCT can do in the accounting and auditing fields. The study could not find any empirical evidence that BCT will disrupt audits, eliminate the roles of auditors in a financial system, and prevent and detect financial fraud. Also, there was no significant evidence that accountants and auditors required higher-level skillsets and an understanding of BCT programming language to be able to use the technology. Future research should consider the implications of an external audit firm as a node in a BCT network on the internal audit functions. It is equally important to critically examine the relevance of including programming languages or codes in the curriculum of undergraduate accounting students. Future research could also empirically evaluate if a BCT enabled triple-entry system could prevent financial statements and management fraud.
The University of Waikato
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