Leveraging CPE for Software and Technology Training
Lifelong learning. How often has that catch phrase appeared when discussing how to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing world? Fortunately for CPAs, lifelong learning is already baked into the cake. New Jersey CPA licensing regulations require that every CPA must earn a minimum of 120 continuing professional education (CPE) credits per triennial reporting period. Regrettably, CPE is in some respects like fast food — cheap and low-quality credits are all too easy to find. Instead of selecting the least expensive and most convenient options, formulate a strategy to leverage this mandated educational obligation to enhance your technology skill-set and your staff's.
Make sure any time invested in technology CPE serves to achieve one or more of the following objectives:
- Makes you more productive/efficient with the technology tools you currently use
- Facilitates training on software or apps that can drastically improve your professional workflow
- Allows you to become proficient/expert with emerging technologies that promote specialization
Increase Your Existing Level of Productivity
We live our professional careers inside the email, spreadsheet, Internet browsers and other critical software programs that allow us to service our clients. How effectively are we using these tools? We spend countless hours tethered to our computers, smart phones and other mobile devices. How efficiently are we utilizing these hardware components? Chances are you participated in some introductory training a long time ago, perform Google searches as needed and otherwise are mostly self-taught. Consider earning CPE while participating in training which will allow you to more fully master the functions and features of these incredibly powerful tools.
Learning about shortcuts, default setups, file integration and electronic feeds between resources can save extensive amounts of time and make you measurably more productive. This added time can be used to complete additional work or provide you with more time to engage in family and personal activities. Mastering macros, formatting skills, standardized conventions and rudimentary programming can save one countless keystrokes and time. Focus your CPE training on those aspects of the program which are unique to your personal situation.
Identify New Software and Tools That Inject Positive Impact to Your Work
New apps and Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions are continuously being introduced and updated. Microsoft Power BI (business intelligence), OneNote (digital notebooks), data encryption tools and integrated sales tax compliance services within accounting programs are just some of the resources which can be added to a CPA’s toolbox. Technologies exist to contemporaneously consolidate clients’ financial statements across entities, automate the purchasing and accounts payable functions and analyze data among disparate systems including operations, sales, finance and electronic commerce sites.
Leverage your CPE compliance requirement with a desire to provide additional value-added professional services beyond your current offerings. Identify clients’ pain points, determine what types of data will allow them to be more competitive, understand the disintermediation which is affecting their unique industries and promote best practices to transcend your traditional role as accumulator of historical data and provider of tax compliance services. Consider taking CPE courses with vendors who specialize in some of these areas, and use your influence as trusted advisor to quarterback projects without having to submerse yourself in all of the technical qualifications.
Embrace Technological Change and Seek to Specialize
Strategize your selection of CPE credits to develop an area of specialization, preferably within a subject matter area for which you already have a keen interest or passion. Keep laser focused and consider opportunities which already exist inside your practice. Cybersecurity, system and organization controls (SOC) studies, blockchain applications, data analytics and XBRL reporting are just some examples of areas you may choose to specialize within.
Select CPE curriculum which both are most appropriate for the subject matter in question and best suit your personal preference for learning. Choosing a combination of conferences, self-study courses, webcasts and publications provides an opportunity to network with others seeking these specializations while also affording scheduling convenience when needed. Speak with others who are already involved with the specialization you are pursuing, and find out about the challenges they faced and the professional and economic benefits they were able to derive.
With today’s pace of technological advancement, if you’re not moving forward you are going backwards. Leverage your CPE requirements to keep current with the changing times.