How Do You Get Your CPE?

CPE became mandatory in most states during the 1980s.  Most state CPA societies, as well as some early private providers answered the demand for CPE by creating one-day (8 hour) courses on a variety of subjects.  A few conferences were also created that had a series of 1 hour CPE sessions, usually put on as a teaser for a full course taught by the presenter at a later date.   Finally, you had dreaded self-study, which involved reviewing a dense book of information, or maybe if you were lucky a book and a video tape (remember those), then taking a test at the end that was submitted to determine if you had gotten enough right answers to merit getting the assigned number of CPE hours several days, or even weeks later.

One thing all of these forms of CPE had in common was they cost money.  That created a mini-industry to support the profession and a way for CPA societies to increase revenues without increasing dues. But the one-day courses are under siege today because of their limitations such as:

  • The learning is scheduled for the future, not when you need it.
  • The learning is focused on large accounting issues that can fill a day rather than the many small ones that CPAs deal with constantly.
  • The learning requires travel to the training location (out of the office) and away from family & community.

Technology has enabled titanic shifts in the way CPE is offered and the way it is thought about in the profession.  The ability to access stored self-study content on the Internet and get instant feedback on successfully passing the test has made anytime anywhere CPE possible.  But more so, the providers of CPE have changed.  Many accounting firms developed strong in-house CPE services and they turned these into ways to highlight the strengths of the firm to potential customers, many of whom are CPAS in business and industry in need of CPE.  In doing so, the firms did not view CPE as a money maker, instead CPE was the way to bring people to the firm to eventually sell other services.  The provision of such free CPE, coupled with the reach of the Internet, enabled members of the profession to get CPE when they wanted, potentially focused on smaller, unique issues without ever leaving the office.

The proliferation of quality, free CPE has dramatically changed how CPAs view continuing education.  Conferences are still seen as a great way to network, get in touch with a variety of experts and get some CPE too.  As a result conference attendance has tended to increase as the number of CPAs has increased over the years.  Self-study CPE has been transformed to new technology platforms focused on unique subjects without a wide audience that provides instant feedback on your success in learning the subject matter.  And the one-day CPE course, it is an idea from the past that is dying a slow death.  It is slow because there are so many dollars vested in its success that people don’t want to give up on it.

State societies offering CPE need to take a serious look what and how they offer CPE because the world is changing around them whether or not they want it to change. Just ask travel agents, newspapers, magazines and taxi drivers about how traditional delivery models can be completely disrupted by new players. The CPE infrastructure of the future is very different from the past, and we can either embrace and make the dramatic changes necessary to continue to provide a valuable service to our members, or we can fight to keep things the way they were – with decreasing success and increasing irrelevance to our fellow members.

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