This paper provides an empirical examination of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) assurance market in the United States. Various constituencies have found this market puzzling, as the level of assurance significantly lags international levels (Simnett et al. 2009; KPMG 2011). Results shed light on this enigma by demonstrating that, unlike their international counterparts, U.S. finance and utilities firms are not more likely (than firms in other industries) to obtain CSR assurance despite facing significant social and environmental risks. As these industries are highly regulated in the United States, regulatory oversight may be acting as a substitute for CSR assurance. We also find that highly leveraged firms are less likely to obtain CSR assurance, potentially due to stringent bank monitoring indirectly suppressing demand. Nonetheless, examining the capital market responses to CSR assurance makes the low demand even more puzzling. Specifically, CSR assurance is associated with lower cost of equity capital along with lower analyst forecast errors and dispersion. Furthermore, the reductions in cost-of-capital and forecast dispersion are significantly higher when CSR assurance is provided by an accounting firm. These results have implications for companies that are considering CSR assurance and accounting firms in developing and marketing their CSR assurance services.

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