Your CPE is Your R&D, Don’t Underinvest

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By Michelle Golden - CPAs have become a lot less enthusiastic about CPE in the last 5-10 years. It’s almost viewed as a necessary evil. This is amazing to me because CPE for CPAs is essentially your R&D, or your product development. Since 99% of your product is in your brains, investing in the expansion of the knowledge necessary to do the job would seem a, pardon the pun, no-brainer.

But this is what I’ve found…

First problem is money.

I did a little survey a few years back and found that the average annual “per professional” cost of CPE was $1,137 for firms that allow out-of-town CPE and $588 for those who only support local CPE. This was across firms of all sizes and all US geographies. The survey exposed that several firms don’t even allow out of town CPE for non-partners and some give major grief even to partners for leaving home to acquire new skills. This seems enormously counter-productive to me.

Underfunding CPE budgets is simply not smart. You have to have great CPE to continuously hone your product. Most of the time, you’ll have to “go to it” rather than wait for it to come to you. Do these CPE numbers sound low to you?

Second problem is perception of time and value.

True story. I sat in a firm’s management meeting about a year ago. Going around the room, department managers were reporting their hours for July (lovely exercise…) and, especially the audit people, were hugely apologetic for the dip in “productive” hours compared to the prior July, defending that they had that huge time investment to get up to speed on all those new risk assessment standards. Honestly, I was mortified. Why on earth are people apologizing for gaining new skills and investing in the future! I absolutely spoke this point at my earliest opportunity and reminded this team that they should be CONGRATULATING themselves on this investment in education, and celebrating it. You should have seen the shift in mindset as the group realized this truth around the room—you could almost touch the change. Sometimes this obsession with hours really makes the profession operate backwards!

Third problem is lack of planning and being strategic about your CPE.

For firms that want to compete, continuing education is imperative. For firms that want to curb risk, it is essential. For firms who claim they “specialize” and fail to invest in significant specialty-related CPE, it is hypocrisy. We have to put our eduction time and money where our mouth is. Learning highly specialized skills necessary to compete in focused practice areas should be a highest priority, and seldom do we see a CPE plan that supports firm’s claims of specialization. See how it is my NUMBER ONE tip on my previous post “10 Ways to Specialize”

It’s funny, but in proposals, I often see language along the lines of, “we are required to have 40 hours of CPE, but we go the extra mile and everyone gets 45!” Sometimes even “60 hours”! Pardon me if I’m underwhelmed.

Do you know that the Container Store invests 241 hours of training for a first year associate? And 160 hours per year after that? (see my prior post “Profitability of the Firm” because there is definitely a correlation between investment and return!

Are they in the knowledge business to the degree you are?

According to the AICPA, the average investment in CPE is about .8% of a firm’s revenues. This is about equal to what the firm spends on its internet connection.

I’d seriously rethink your CPE strategy!

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