With continuing professional education and training inching ever closer together, CPE for 2007 is shaping up to be a mix of new offerings and delivery formats bookended by industry-focused courses and uncertainty over potential changes emanating from the 110th Congress.While CPE demand spiked in 2005 as a result of mandates such as Circular 230 and Section 199 of the American Jobs Creation Act, providers pointed to more recently enacted standards like FIN 48, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005, the new risk assessment standards, and the continuing cry for fraud education as topics that will highlight much of CPE this year.

"What CPE should be is a by-product of the learning process," said Ken Koskay, vice president of CPE and training for Thomson Tax & Accounting. "The opportunity is in providing true training, and that's what the workforce today needs."

Both providers and presenters are tailoring course offerings and veering into new methods of delivery in an effort to keep pace with both demand and new technology.

"What you're seeing now, in the aftermath of SOX, is this nexus between tax and accounting becoming more apparent," said Joe Gornick, senior manager of audio conferences and new business opportunities for tax and accounting products publisher CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business. "What that's done is force people who have just had to wear audit hats in the past to see their scope of responsibilities impacting on other areas as well."

As an example, Gornick reported that CCH experienced growth in demand and attendance for its industry-specific CPE courses, such as oil and gas, health care, and real estate.

But CCH and other CPE providers are taking a wait-and-see position with regard to any changes to the alternative minimum tax, capital gains or estate taxes, or the Bush-enacted tax cuts, as the recently installed Democrat-controlled Congress will still be feeling its way around in the first half of the year.

CCH is currently examining a number of new delivery formats like podcasts, streaming video and downloadable audio seminars. "There are a lot of options with CPE," Gornick said. "It's just a matter of coming up with the right mix."

Koskay said that TTA, which acquired CPE vendor PassOnline last year, now sells CPE under a total of nine brands, including PPC, Bell Learning and Micromash. He also reported that TTA delivered 1,000 live seminars in 47 states last year, and will close the year with roughly 40 Webinars. TTA additions include multi-media courses, and new topics such as ethics and personal financial management. In May 2007, the company will also begin offering podcasts for CPE.

LET'S GET ETHICAL

Allen Schmelkin, managing director of operations for the New York State Society of CPAs, said that member demand for ethics education has not ebbed over the past several years. "We're a big supporter of it," he said. "Our members seem to be turning to that more than ever. As a result, we'll continue to service that need with our course offerings."

Schmelkin added that the NYSSCPA has also mined success in the CPE arena with its "in-firm" model, where they bring a speaker into a firm, where associates are usually more open and candid than at a conference or seminar with other attendees. The society conducted roughly 25 of these sessions in 2006. "They can discuss practice concerns in the privacy of their own firm, where outside they may be more reticent to share," Schmelkin said.

He also revealed that the NYSSCPA has kicked off a number of CPE Webcasts.

David Tolson, director of product development at the American Institute of CPAs, said that coming up in May, the institute will roll out a block of 24 new courses divided between audit and attest, management, and taxation.

"We're seeing a renewed interest in the A&A and tax arena," said Tolson. "Audit sampling is also becoming more complex in both the statistical and non-statistical categories. Then there's fair value convergence and fraud, which continues to be a hot area for us."

CPExpress, the institute's online training curriculum that was formerly called InfoBytes, now offers between 800 and 900 courses for a member pay-one-price of $149.

CPE has even captured the attention of the International Federation of Accountants, which is readying a research project that would examine how other industries measure the continuing education efforts of professionals. That will ultimately lead to a paper to be issued in 2008. The request for proposal, Approaches to Continuing Professional Development Measurement, is available under the board's home page off IFAC's Web site, www.ifac.org. The deadline for submission is Jan. 12, 2007.

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