by Seth Fineberg

As a CPA, getting up to speed on the recent regulatory and economic climate has become increasingly commonplace, but that doesn’t mean everyone necessarily feels prepared.

On the contrary, CPAs are looking to more continuing professional education for answers and for their future. And, as a result of the current regulatory-heavy environment, and demand for those all-important 40 hours of CPE per year, the amount of choices specific to CPAs’ growing needs — from content to the manner in which they receive their education — has grown significantly.

Clearly, new regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Section 404 in particular, and Statement on Auditing Standards No. 99 have created a greater demand among CPAs in public and private practice to become knowledgeable and effective in these areas for their clients.

In addition to keeping pace with these changes, the improving economy has many firms hiring once more, increasing the need for new staff to ramp up on even basic CPE disciplines such as management training, accounting, audit and tax.

Winfred Paschall, director of CPE at Practitioners Publishing Co., a Thomson business, is all too aware of these trends.

His organization is one of many that are offering CPE courses, and Paschall acknowledges that the past year has been one of significant demand.

“During some of the leaner times, we saw CPAs opening their own practices and they sought CPE for [themselves] rather than having it provided by the firm,” Paschall said. “Now with things improving, we are seeing more demand at the firm level than we’ve had in while.”

PPC takes “a blended approach” to CPE, offering courses in a variety of formats including online; self-study through books; live training at its PPC University; by region through Bell Learning — which currently offers eight-hour seminars in 16 states; and through a free CPE program where CPAs earn credit for beta testing new courses as long as they pass the exams.

As for content, PPC and others are finding that SOX 404 learning is currently one of the “hot” areas of CPE learning. The company only started offering SOX 404 courses in December, but Paschall says that they are “rapidly gaining popularity.”

Henderson, Va.-based AuditWatch, which launched its AuditWatch University in 2001 with the CPE Institute, also noticed that offering courses on SOX 404 has resulted in something of a boom for its business.

“Typically, between January 15 and April 15 firms don’t want to talk to us, but lately when I call a firm and mention 404, it’s like ‘Hey, I want to talk to you,’” said AuditWatch president Bo Fitzpatrick. “Every firm is very interested in this opportunity as a means to jump start a new part of their practice and differentiate themselves.”

Even so, Fitzpatrick found that there is still plenty of demand for fraud-related courses, such as its new “SAS 99, Year Two and Beyond” course, as well as for basic management and audit CPE courses.

“People still need training in management. You are an auditor coming through the ranks and a firm wants you to sell, mentor and lead, and the next level is manager training, presentation, time management and leadership,” Fitzpatrick said. “Ultimately, I feel we get the people at the appropriate level on how to be a better in-charge auditor.”

AuditWatch is one of the few CPE providers that does not yet offer online learning, but it may do so in the future. Fitzpatrick believes that live learning is still the best method, as CPAs can “really see the training they are getting, and interact with instructors.”

While a personal touch may be right for some, this has not stopped new companies like CPE4CPAs.com, based in San Diego, from seeing the future of continuing professional education courses and learning. The company launched its Web site in February and is already listed on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy registry of CPE sponsors, and is approved to deliver self-study courses under the latest guidelines from NASBA.

For $99, users can get 10 hours of best business practices and managerial training from top small and midsized businesses via streamed video, recorded and produced by CPE4CPAs staff.

“I think this is going to be the product that allows you to be a better business advisor quick,” said CPE4CPAs.com co-founder Bruce Camber. “Most people coming right out of school don’t know much about business, but when they watch the videos, we take them behind the walls of these companies. We realize our target is the ‘under-30 crop,’ as they are more comfortable with new media. This crowd wants to be stimulated and move beyond books and classrooms.”

The company selects businesses to videotape through extensive in-house review, and also via lists of potential candidates from Small Business Administration lists and, in some cases, client referrals from area CPA firms.

CPE4CPAs, under a former name, had been producing these video programs for 10 years for local television stations, until they were tipped off to the idea that they had a valuable product for people looking for this kind of CPE.

SmartPros, in Hawthorne, N.Y., is also well aware of the growing need for variety and flexibility in CPE learning. It offers over 400 accredited CPE courses online, and has alliances with the American Institute of CPAs and Automatic Data Processing Inc., which has been reaching out to the CPA community of late with a variety of offerings.

Regardless of the format in which CPAs access their learning, Shane Gillespie, SmartPros’ vice president of marketing and e-commerce, believes that it is more important to offer specific, relevant content.

“Right now I think fraud prevention and Sarbanes-Oxley learning are at the top of everyone’s list. Our industry got waylaid by a series of public transactions that showed everyone that there was an area of immediate need,” Gillespie said. “Fraud is a specific, tangible issue, and if it’s aligned with ethics, fraud shouldn’t happen. You can attack fraud directly, but there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. We believe education and training are a key component.”


CPE providers
A sampling of sources that offer a variety of courses and course information


AmericanCPE Inc.
Mansfield, Texas
www.americancpe.com
(800) 990-4273


AuditWatch Inc.
Herndon, Va.
www.auditwatch.com
(800) 775-9866


CPA2Biz (AICPA)
New York
www.cpa2biz.com
(888) 777-7077


CPE4CPAs.com
San Diego
www.cpe4cpas.com
(619) 232-4272


MicroMash
Englewood, Colo.
(800) 272-7277


NASBA
Nashville, Tenn.
www.cpemarket.com
(615) 880-4200


Practitioners Publishing Co.
Fort Worth, Texas
www.ppcnet.com
(800) 323-8724


SmartPros
Hawthorne, N.Y.
www.smartpros.com
(914) 345-2620

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