Is Tone at the Top Associated with Financial Reporting Aggressiveness?

Journal of Business Ethics

January 2015Volume 126Issue 1pp 3-19

Is Tone at the Top Associated with Financial Reporting Aggressiveness?

Lorenzo PatelliMatteo Pedrini


The discussion about the relationship between tone at the top and financial reporting practices has been primarily focused on the oversight role played by the board of directors and other structural elements of corporate governance. Another relevant determinant of tone at the top is the corporate narrative language, since it is a fundamental way in which the chief executive officer (CEO) enacts leadership. In this study, we empirically explore the association between financial reporting aggressiveness and five thematic indicators capturing different traits of ethical leadership from 535 annual letters to shareholders. We find that aggressive financial reporting is positively associated with CEO letters using a language which is resolute, complex, and not engaging. Our empirical findings highlight the importance of examining discretionary corporate narratives for the auditing process and the role of tone at the top in influencing accounting practices.


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