Art of Accounting: The worst CPE topic ever

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Last month I gave one of the best CPE programs I ever did about the worst topic ever. Here is what happened.

I spoke at an accounting conference with the CPE topic “Continuing Education in Your Firm: Cost or Opportunity.” Ugh! Who would attend that? That subject would never be a top choice, but I agreed to do it so I set about preparing the presentation.

My feelings are that many accountants view CPE in a negative manner as an unpleasant obligation, and would not want to spend an hour hearing about it. I was right about the lack of interest in attending. Besides a few people who knew me, about a dozen other people showed up. Very disappointing, but totally expected.

The talk I gave ended up being funny and interesting, and I had a responsive audience that I could play off against. I had a great time and each person thanked me afterwards. However, I doubt I will ever repeat this topic.

I’ve written some blogs about the importance of attending the right CPE and have always tried to do that even if I had to travel to do so. In recent speeches about developing staff, I strongly emphasized the importance of targeted CPE based on the work the staff person will actually be doing. Sending a Staff 1 to an eight-hour program on qualified business income, Section 163j, revenue recognition or lease reporting is a waste of money and time. Save those programs for the more experienced people in the firm. The lower-level staff should be sent to tax preparation workshops or programs on workpaper techniques and documentation, reviews and compilations and how to perform an audit using the practice aids most firms subscribe to. You are spending good money and staff time, so use it to create value by training staff in the areas they will need to know about and can grasp easily.

The other areas that are wasted opportunities are the management of an accounting practice (MAP) courses. Many accountants skip these courses altogether because they do not get the right type of CPE credit. Here are two stories I told during the presentation that expressed my feelings about this. (Note that I wrote these up in prior articles.)

“I have a friend that sells trophies out of her house. Her living room is her showroom. Every year she goes to a trophy convention in Las Vegas with her husband and they go to seminars on how to make more money selling trophies. Well, CPAs have college and professional degrees and licenses, fancy offices or at least big desks, but they won’t go to courses on how to make more money because they don’t get the right CPE credit. Boy, are they - - - - - - !”

“When Peter Weitsen and I became partners in 1988, we started going to the daylong MAP programs presented by the New Jersey Society of CPAs; 350 colleagues filled a hotel ballroom. This went on for a few years. We heard world-class speakers, got to know some of them, and met many colleagues and developed friendships. Better yet, we got ideas that we put into practice and found ourselves working better, servicing clients more effectively, billing more and having more fun. One year we went and there were only 35 people and it was embarrassing. Well, it seemed that mandatory CPE programs were instituted that year and MAP programs did not qualify so our colleagues stopped coming; 315 of my competitors suddenly decided they did not need to learn how to make more money. Boy, were they - - - - - -!“

OK, reading these stories doesn’t seem like they are so funny, but the delivery and my expressions made them funny … and maybe my choice of words that I cannot print here. However, examine the logic of what I said above. If you believe I am off base, ignore it. Otherwise, what will you do about it?

Here are some takeaways from my presentation:

  • Most accountants need 40 CPE credits a year. Given the amount of lost work time from the owners and staff attending the CPE and the cost of the programs, this has to cost anywhere from $4,000 to $9,000 a year per person. Shouldn’t this money be spent in the best possible manner?
  • CPE is an opportunity to learn from successful colleagues who willingly share their knowledge and experience and should be taken advantage of.
  • You can get ideas to serve clients better.
  • You can learn what’s new and innovative.
  • You get updated technical info.
  • You get industry updates.
  • Live programs are networking opportunities.
  • The right CPE gives a heads up over other accountants
  • The right CPE will halt your waste of money and time.
  • The right CPE will show you how to get better work from your staff.

The bottom line was that I illustrated how the right CPE can create great value, make you more effective, manage better, make you richer, help you provide better client service, and have a better practice with more fun, rather than be a waste of time and money. You need to do it, so why not do it so you can get great value?

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

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Continuing education Accounting education Business development Practice management Ed Mendlowitz