The effects of accounting conservatism on executive compensation Academic Article uri icon


  • Purpose The purpose of this paper is to identify means of better associating executive remuneration with managerial decision making and firm performance. Design/methodology/approach The authors evaluate the influence of conditional accounting conservatism on CEO compensation. The authors focus particularly on the ex ante pay-for-performance sensitivity (PPS) of CEO stock option grants. The empirical method used is panel data regression. Findings The authors find that accounting conservatism is positively related to the PPS of CEO option-based compensation. The effects of accounting conservatism on the PPS of options are more significant for firms with relatively weaker corporate governance and for the period before the introduction of FAS 123R. The findings suggest that directors reward CEOs for adopting accounting conservatism, both in general terms and incrementally, and that rewards are channelled through incentive-linked compensation. The results are also consistent with the view that accounting conservatism compliments other mechanisms, such as corporate governance, in reducing information asymmetry and agency problems between managers and shareholders and other stakeholders. Originality/value This paper provides a number of important contributions to the literature. It is the first to identify a relationship between accounting conservatism and option-based CEO compensation, which has important potential contracting and enforcement implications due to the incomplete nature of option contracts and the reward and risk attributes of CEOs. This paper is also the first to analyse the association between conditional accounting conservatism and CEO compensation at the firm–year level, by employing the firm–year conservatism score approach proposed by Khan and Watts (2009). This provides for greater insight regarding the interaction between accounting conservatism and other firm-specific elements than is otherwise obtainable from an overall firm or year interpretations derived from the traditional Basu (1997) asymmetric timeliness model approach. Furthermore, this paper also provides a comparison of the relative association of accounting conservatism on both explicit and implicit forms of CEO compensation for the same firm sample. This allows for the assessment of whether accounting conservatism relates differently to incentive-based CEO remuneration relative to ex post CEO compensation outcomes.

publication date

  • January 1, 2020