Why Ethics CPE is Required

I recently sat through my required four hours of ethics continuing education to meet the biennial requirement for licensure in Texas. While every state requires some amount of continuing education to maintain a CPA license, some states go further and specifically require a certain portion of the continuing education hours cover ethical issues. As the instructor covered actual dilemmas faced by CPAs and actual frauds committed by CPAs and non-CPAs alike, my mind wandered a bit into why I was required to take this course in the first place. My thought was, I have high integrity; I would never do what these criminals did, and I know where and how to look for fraud. I am an internal auditor after all!

Then the stories turned to average people who started down a path that seemed appropriate. They were trying to help the company and protect people’s jobs. These people didn’t realize they were in over their head until the riptide of circumstances had pulled them so far out to sea, they could never get back to shore on their own. That is when I realized we take ethics regularly for two reasons.

First, most of us are fortunate enough to rarely be faced with true ethical dilemmas. While ethics is like riding a bike, you never completely forget, taking on those dilemmas is not for the novice and the training keeps our senses sharp for the potential situations when they arise. Second, we are there for our fellow CPAs. The requirement to think about ethics means thinking about our duty to the public and our fellow professionals. We are trusted because the whole profession is trusted. We nearly lost that trust a couple of decades ago with the Enron and WorldCom disasters. It took us years to get that trust back.

We are, once again, one of the most trusted professions in the world. If sitting through a few hours of ethics every two years means just one CPA stands up early enough to prevent a company from going off the rails and costing investors billions of dollars, then those hours of my time are well worth it.

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