The usual suspects - including ethics offerings, legislative developments and accounting/auditing course staples - are expected to be the drivers of continuing professional education in 2006.The major players in a fairly mature industry repeat much the same mantra when it comes to talking about their plans for the coming year. The key to their success and their clients' satisfaction is staying current.

"There's no silver bullet," said Joe Gornick, executive editor for CCH Tax and Accounting books, CPE and journals. "Success comes with offerings that are convenient, have options and are flexible. ... A lot of time, firms don't know what they need next week, or two weeks out."

Finding a way to effectively use new technology to deliver CPE is something that many providers, from CCH to the educational arms of small state societies, are still working on. While organizations continue to explore the bells and whistles of Webcasts and pod casts, and those delivery systems continue to grow in revenues and offerings from year to year, traditional programs remain king.

Ken Koskay, vice president of CPE at PPC, a Thomson business, said that his company would be entering the Webinar space with a series of offerings planned for a launch after the April 15 tax deadline. Koskay said that the initial courses would be in the accounting, auditing and taxation fields.

"There's a larger percentage of growth coming from online offerings, but that's working off a much smaller client base," said Koskay. "More than 50 percent of what we do is through instructor-led training. It's been that way for some time." He said that even while the demographic heading online for training appears to be younger on average, below the age of 40, most supplement courses with an offline portion of CPE.

"We're always looking for a great new idea," Koskay said. "We continue to survey our customers and keep an eye on legislative developments, but with more than 500 courses, we've got pretty broad offerings that have been well received."

CCH's Gornick said that the company has seen "tremendous growth" in its audio seminars over the last year. The first seminar was held in November 2004; another 20 were held throughout 2005. Gornick said that Webcasts seem better suited to one person sitting in front of their own personal computer. CCH had as many as 250 firms, with an average of five to six staff members, listen in on a two-hour audio seminar in 2005.

CCH is also going to introduce new packaging in its online Learning Center, rolling out special libraries that include advanced classes in accounting, auditing courses and sales and use tax courses. Gornick said that additional libraries, including tax preparation, would be launched in the first quarter.

Success in clusters, and more

Paden Neeley, vice president of group study at the American Institute of CPAs, said that while there's no question the institute will continue to see an uptick in interest for its Webcasts and online training, called InfoBytes, there's a trio of areas that have seen great growth over the past two years.

Neeley said that the AICPA has found success in offering four-hour "cluster" programs, instead of a traditional eight-hour program, and that business valuation and construction courses remain valued offerings. Also, it is continuing to create partnerships with universities and state societies to offer academic credit for CPE.

The AICPA's CPE marketing manager, Chris Fleck, said that the Yellow Book requirements from the Government Accountability Office, which continue to be clarified, remain popular, with more than 20 courses. Fleck also said that individual states passing ethics requirements has driven demand, and requests for fraud and internal controls classes are high, as are employee benefits overviews.

Fleck added that a few state societies have begun partnerships with universities offering MBA programs to provide the accounting component, and the institute has been involved in talks to provide AICPA materials in those classrooms. Both men also stressed that traditional on-site training, as well as conference attendance, has continued to grow as well.

Arthur Bloom, president of the New York State Society of CPAs' Foundation for Accounting Education, said that the focus remains on ethics classes and New York's ethics requirements. Since 2002, Bloom said that just under 8,000 members have participated in nearly 300 FAE ethics classes, and the expectations are for that high demand to continue through 2006. Bloom said that with a third of the society's members working in industry, he's also hearing requests for more how-to classes on software programs like Microsoft Excel and Intuit QuickBooks.

At the California Society of CPAs, director of marketing and publications Sue Anderson said that there are several "hot" topics planned for 2006, including a course on the auditor's risk assessment process, and one on identify theft and credit repair. On the tax side, the Section 199 Production Activities Deduction will be covered, as well as new seminars and conferences for practitioners working for the construction industry. Anderson said that ethics and fraud classes would continue to be major draws as well.

Senior vice president of the Ohio Society of CPAs Joan McGloshen said that updates in taxation, accounting and auditing still spark the most requests from the society's public practice members. She said that corporate members are becoming more vocal about the lack of programs specifically addressing areas like human resources, technology and managing health care costs. The society recently sponsored a private-companies conference to address some of those knowledge gaps.

PPC's Koskay and CCH's Gornick said that a number of industry-wide developments are driving the direction of CPE. Both said that they are aware of a continued emphasis on ethics, as well as the regulatory standards coming out of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the new Circular 230.

Gornick said that the provisions of 2004's American Jobs Creation Act and the Working Families Tax Relief Act, and this year's energy and highway bills, will have long-term effects. And that's without considering the changes happening at the state level, as states continue to decouple from federal tax law changes. Gornick said that CCH expects to see more courses tailored in the future to the streamlined sales tax, further Katrina legislation, fixes for the alternative minimum tax and whatever becomes of President Bush's capital gains and dividend tax cuts, and his call for tax reform.

"Where there's tremendous change, there's tremendous opportunity," Gornick said.

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