Why Every Accounting Firm Needs a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Strategy

Gaynor Meilke
Chief Marketing Officer, Insightful Accountant

Practice Management, Development

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is key for accounting practitioners and firms that want to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced, ultra-competitive market. Of course, accounting professionals must also meet the National Association of State Boards for Accountancy (NASBA) requirements for CPE as well. These requirements vary from state to state. For a complete list of the NASBA requirements for CPAs you can visit the NASBA website.

Despite the importance of CPE in maintaining and upgrading professional competencies, for many firms and individual professionals, CPE is an ad hoc, administrative item, rather than part of a true strategy for advancing their skills and knowledge base. This means that CPE is often a backburner item to which not much thought is given, other than the fact it needs to be completed during a specific timeframe, rather than being aligned with the overall direction and needs of the practice as a whole.

Tips for creating your firm’s comprehensive CPE strategy

Having a comprehensive CPE strategy for your firm will allow you to not only retain and develop your firm’s most valuable assets—it’s people—but it will also help you gain the specific skills and knowledge necessary for reaching your strategic goals, leveraging your firm’s strengths, and reducing knowledge gaps which can have a negative impact on your practice.

Start with a proactive process

A key part of implementing a comprehensive CPE strategy is to set processes in place for selecting the particular curriculum and individual courses that your firm wants to take advantage of on a regular basis. This could be an annual staff professional development calendar, a semi-annual plan for CPE or a quarterly selection period when the professionals in your firm submit their CPE plans for approval based on how they support your firm’s strategy.

These processes will help you gain better control over, and insights into your CPE investments and the return you receive from them for your firm through education and professional development.

  • To create a comprehensive CPE plan for your firm, the first step is to identify your goals and objectives in alignment with your firm’s vision and strategy. Take a long term view of the products and services you want to offer your clients and what skills you need to deliver them.
  • Think about CPE in terms of the skills you need long-term to grow your firm. While CPE is done by individual professionals, it is also helpful to consider the needs of your firm over the long-term when planning for CPE. Think about which core competencies your firm has that need to be maintained and which ones need to be developed.
  • Align the CPE offerings available to the knowledge and skills gaps you need to grow your firm. Once you have identified the long-term needs of your firm make sure you consider these skills as you make decisions about the CPE you need for your team to accomplish. This will help you maximize your return on investment.
  • Create personalized plans for each staff member based on your firm’s needs. Of course, planning for personal development is best done collaboratively, so get your individual team members involved in their professional development selection. Use the opportunity as an individual growth opportunity and to show how much you value their continued contributions to your firm.
  • Tie your CPE plan with your performance management process. As part of your strategy, you should incorporate the CPE plan for each employee into their annual performance review which allows them to see how successful and proactive completion of CPE courses helps them be successful in their position as well as how it makes them an increasingly valuable asset for your firm. 
  • Create an accountability program related to CPE. After CPE is completed, consider having employees deliver a brief educational session to their peers to help reinforce their learning and share the wealth of knowledge they have acquired. This will also allow you to make sure that the CPE is thoroughly completed and can be readily applied to the firm’s mission.

Use this strategic approach to CPE to maximize the potential of your practice and your team

While CPAs are required to maintain and improve their skills through continuing professional education (CPE) courses and other opportunities for professional development, from a firm perspective, maximizing the ROI from these activities should be a key strategic endeavor. By aligning the development of your staff’s professional competencies with your firm’s strategic goals, you will not only be able to create a plan that ensures your team members meet their licensing requirements, you will also be able to maximize your investment in CPE to support your firm’s success now and in the future.