We investigate the audit fee response to CEO behavioral integrity (BI). BI refers to the perceived congruence between an individual's words and deeds (Simons 2002). Because low word-deed congruence should result in more explanations when communicating, we use variation in explanations beyond firm fundamentals and CEO-specific characteristics in more than 30,000 shareholder letters to serve as a linguistic-based proxy for CEO BI. We find that audit fees increase as BI decreases, but BI is not associated with financial misstatement or litigation. These findings are potentially consistent with auditors undertaking additional work in response to low BI, which, in turn, mitigates the risk of restatements and lawsuits. The likelihood of option backdating increases as BI decreases, consistent with the contention that auditors lacked incentives to prevent backdating. Finally, BI is increasing in future performance, which suggests that CEOs partially underpin the returns to high-integrity corporate cultures.
JEL Classifications: J24; L25; M14; M41; M42.
Data Availability: Proprietary data from KRW International cannot be shared because of the terms of a confidentiality agreement. All other data are available from the public sources cited in the text.