Maximizing the Returns on Your Investment in CPE

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It’s not new news, but the purpose of mandatory continuing professional education (CPE) is to improve the competence of CPAs. By improving the competence of CPAs, standard-setters reasoned, the quality of their services should improve. Sometimes this has proven to be true; sometimes not! Here is the starting point for getting your money’s worth from CPE.

Maximizing the returns on our investment is CPE is a holistic undertaking. For some firms, this may require taking the axe to the roots of some of the firm’s philosophies and objectives. For others, it may mean trimming some old ways and grafting in some new. For example, if CPA firm management sees CPE as a compliance function and uses the least expensive training providers and delivery methods, the benefits to firm personnel may be limited. On the other hand, high-quality CPE that is designed to transfer learning to practice can make substantial improvements in engagement quality and efficiency.

Management’s attitudes have a direct effect on CPA firm staff personnel. If management demonstrates and communicates the value of CPE in providing high-quality client services, staff will be inclined to adopt the same values. If management doesn’t apply learning to the job, neither will staff.

For several years, I taught centralized staff training for a larger CPA firm. This week of CPE for progressive staff levels provided foundational accounting and auditing training that contributed to the success of many other CPA firms. To this CPA firm’s partners, however, staff training came to be known as “play week.” Partners returned from their out-of-town seminars sharing stories of humorous, late night events, usually prompted by excessive alcohol intake! When it came time for staff personnel to attend out-of-town training, they too focused on “playing hard.” Playing hard resulted in the firm being barred from returning to three major universities, not to mention having to pay for substantial damages to continuing education facilities. You might not be surprised to learn that this larger CPA firm no longer exists!

Maximizing the benefits of CPE begins with the value management ascribes to it. In my next blog, I’ll begin to discuss how management can motivate staff personnel to get the most out of their CPE. Please comment and share how your firm gets the most value out of its training investment.


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