The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in May rolled out a much faster and user friendly training and library Web site, called CPExpress, formerly known as Infobytes. Feedback is extremely positive, say Dr. Paden Neeley, AICPA Vice President of Group Study and David Tolson, Director of CPE Product Development, who spoke with AccountingWeb recently about how the AICPA’s online CPE offerings and other training options meet the needs of small and mid-sized accounting firms.
CPExpress is much faster than the previous site, says Tolson. “It takes only about 20 seconds to access information.” The one- and two-credit CPE courses are available 24 hours, seven days a week for a one time-only charge of $149 for AICPA members.
CPExpress is an ideal training option for small and mid-sized accounting firms, according to Neeley, because users can access courses whenever they have time and because it is affordable. Staff may select their own course materials from the CPExpress library, but firms may also choose to restrict the available courses, for example, to just tax offerings, through customized, made-to-order subscriptions. The Firm Access option offers discounted pricing.
Neeley said CPExpress also serves as a library resource for smaller firms that do not have large library facilities. A firm may be taking on a client in a new industry like construction, and staff can take relevant courses over a weekend to prepare them for work at the client location. The CPE credit is a bonus.
The hottest online courses, and most useful for smaller firms, according to Neeley and Tolson, are the Quarterly Updates, offered in three sets: Accounting and Auditing, Tax, and Government and Nonprofit Accounting.
Two very popular course offerings in the last 90 days have been “In CPAs Professionals We Must Trust” and “ABCs of XBRL.” CPExpress offers 12 ethics courses. It is possible to meet a state’s four-hour ethics requirement by taking four one-hour courses that cover case studies in specific categories, Neeley says.
Tolson recommends the AICPA webcasts, which focus on cutting-edge issues, as a reasonably priced choice and an opportunity for interactive learning. Paper-based self-study courses that typically appeal to professionals who do not want to use a computer for study, now offer an electronic testing option, which speeds up the process, he says.
Workshops at regional and national meetings of the AICPA and state societies appeal to higher level professionals, Neeley says, who also use the meetings for interaction and networking. They are a more expensive training option and can mean time away from the office for travel, as well as for attending the actual meeting.
Seminars sponsored by state societies are popular and held all over the country but can also involve expense and time away from the office, Neeley says. The most popular current seminar offerings, called Secret Sizzlers, are listed on the CPExpress web site. “SEC Reporting” is leading the pack right now.
Video courses offer a chance to bring the staff together for two hours – most last for 100 minutes - perhaps over lunch. The DVD will cost AICPA members approximately $200. There is an additional charge for manuals for individual use.
It may take a little longer than one hour to complete the online CPExpress courses, including taking the test, Tolson said. Pilot testing has indicated that some courses may require as much as one hour and 15 or 20 minutes. The AICPA has controls in place in their online courses to promote a thoughtful and careful approach to online learning. “Students cannot race through the course, do poorly on the test, and then immediately return to retake the course,” Tolson said. A student who has not scored well on the test is locked out of the course for a period of time before he or she can return.
New courses users should be looking for include “Fair Value Accounting,” which marks the shift away from the traditional historical-based accounting. One new course that smaller firms should pay particular attention to, Tolson says, is the “Enron” course, “Variable Interest Entities, FIN 46-R.” “A business client with only a single real estate holding in a partnership could be impacted by FIN 46-R,” he says. The AICPA’s fraud specialist is pulling together a new Forensics and Fraud course.
CPE credits from the AICPA are accepted by most states. All AICPA courses meet the QAS standards, since the AICPA sets these standards jointly with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Neeley pointed out that not all states require that CPE courses meet QAS standards.
The AICPA works closely with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) and Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), and AICPA CPE credits are accepted for Certified Forensic Examiner, Certified Management Accountant and enrolled agent licensing.
CPExpress is found at www.aicpalearning.org/profdevIB.asp. The AICPA is offering users a free 30 day trial which includes two free CPE credits.