Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Recession Makes CPE a Survival Tactic

What’s YOUR personal economic stimulus plan? Join the survey; see the results.

May 11, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

With recessionary pressures bearing down on accounting firms and finance departments, it’s almost understandable that one of the first budget items to get the red pencil treatment is training and education. But I said “almost.”

In fact, cutting back on continuing professional education (CPE) is probably the singularly worst strategy for CPAs in times like these. In a business based on an evolving body of knowledge and understanding, you can’t take the “learned” out of “learned profession” and still serve competently as a trusted professional.

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In research with Capstone Marketing, we’re finding conclusive evidence that high-performing accounting offices hold life-and-death competitive advantages over organizations that fail to adhere to operational basics like regular, relevant CPE.

To be sure, accountants are always looking for more cost-effective forms of CPE, which explains the rise of group-based webinars and lunch-and-learns. But savvy CPAs are actually enhancing their CPE plans with an eye toward new service offerings and niche specialties.

“Many companies are trying to trim budget dollars, and the learning budget seems an easy target,” says AICPA practice management guru Mark Koziel. But, “there are ways to cut the training dollars without sacrificing the learning.”

According to the Texas/AICPA MAP survey, accounting firms spend — in good times — a paltry 0.8 percent of their expenses on CPE, which is less than what they spend on promotion and marketing. At that rate, the lack of competence becomes a serious professional ethics issue, not just a competitive factor. Compare: The average American corporation spent $1,000 a year per employee on training. How much, then, should the above-average CPA spend?

“In today’s world, people are taking a clear perspective that making the investment in people pays back multiple-fold in the risks that you avoid because people know what they’re doing,” said Jon Andrews, a top partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ London-based human resources management consultancy.

In a research project with Capstone, CPE regimens are emerging as a key difference between the best CPA firms and the rest, or, what we call, the Leaders and the Laggards.

Specifically, Leaders are:

  • More than twice as likely as laggards to provide the training those staffers need.
  • Five times more likely to provide training that supports staffers’ personal goals.
  • Eight times more likely to provide the training that staffers want.
  • Eight times more likely to provide training that actually supports the firm’s business strategy.

“Change is the one constant in accounting and finance professions,” Mike Mirretti, CPA, and Becker CPE program manager has told me.It is incumbent upon CPAs and their employers to stay ahead of the issues and be prepared to properly apply today’s standards to the unprecedented situations we are seeing in the market.”

The implication is clear. And the penalty for failure could be disastrous for accounting firms, finance organizations, CPA clients and CPAs themselves.

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Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.