CPE: Go Beyond Counting Credits

by Colleen Cullari, Cullari Carrico LLC – May 28, 2019
CPE: Go Beyond Counting Credits

In this day and age, information is coming at us so quickly that it seems to be changing by the minute. It’s time to leverage CPE for more than just compliance.

Continuous Learning

I used to believe that continuing professional education (CPE) was a tool to enhance the quality of services I was providing to existing clientele. After all, most of the courses I take to fulfill my CPE requirement are limited to the practice areas I serve. My entire 120 credit load is fulfilled by compliance with the government auditing standards requirement. However, recently I realized that I needed to change my CPE mindset to start thinking about the way CPE is actually defined: any way in which we gather information that enhances our broad understanding and knowledge of our profession.

Our own standard-setting board has an ongoing standard-setting process in which they have maintenance updates just to ensure that the content released one day doesn’t conflict with content released days before. It is imperative now more than ever that we stay on top of all of this information. Incorporating CPE into our daily routine must become the standard for CPAs in practice; harnessing and distributing this information to our staff and clients on a timely basis is imperative to our professional development.

What drove this idea in the first place was my own feelings towards the accounting industry’s changing marketplace. For the past couple of years, our managing partner has been asking us to embrace disruptive technology and start to become the client’s trusted advisor. I needed to know about disruptive technology and help my clients implement it all while still being able to communicate my analysis of the “after­-the-fact” accounting work I was actually hired to do. Now I was being charged with helping clients strategize for the future as well. Here I am, a manager, on top of my game, specializing in audit — and in this new accounting marketplace I felt like I was thrown back into staff level 2: researching, attending various seminars and reading articles by my peers on a daily basis just to stay afloat. I felt overwhelmed, but I knew I had to keep moving forward. The way I did that was by gathering as much information as I could and disseminating it. If I read an article or attended a seminar, I would immediately send my thoughts out to any client it pertained to. At the time, I didn’t even realize this process would strengthen my client relationships. I was simply blasting emails off left and right with subject headers that read, “I think this would help your business,” “Remember that problem you had? This new technology seems to solve it,” “I heard this in a seminar today and I think you should be aware of it.” Clients noticed that I was thinking of them and they appreciated it. I realized that this was the first step in becoming the client’s trusted advisor and using CPE to grow and develop professionally.

Pay it Forward

Although I had been keeping my staff copied on most of my communications with clients, it wasn’t going any further than that. I realized that I owed more training to my team, especially my seniors who were working with the clients on a daily basis. I needed to assist fellow members of my firm with their own professional growth and get them up to speed, but it was beyond my reach. I didn’t know enough yet about the concepts I was sharing with clients because what I was sharing was off-the-cuff type of ideas and information. I thought I would never have the time to do the in-depth research necessary for training. The partners at our firm brought a solution to the problem by assigning key staff the responsibility of developing content to present to co-workers at “lunch and learns.” We spread out the responsibility of the research to younger, less-experienced staff members and saw them flourish. They were excited about learning something new that even their partners didn’t know about, and they began to understand that it was their responsibility to also start researching and seeking out educational advances in the field to further our firm growth.

In the near future, we are hoping to develop this content into in-house CPE seminars that we would also be able to invite our clients and potential new clients to attend. We have also found a need in the niche markets we serve to get clients together and information share during roundtable sessions at our office. We are in the beginning stages of marketing our CPE this way. We will set up the roundtable, create the agenda and let the clients lead the discussion. This will not only enhance the client experience but help us learn more about our clients’ needs in real time so we are better able to serve them in the future. 

Colleen  Cullari

Colleen Cullari

Colleen Cullari, MBA, is an audit manager at Cullari Carrico LLC. She is a member of the NJCPA Accounting & Auditing Standards and Nonprofit interest groups.

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This article appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.