A Word to the Wise – Don’t Under-invest!
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good number of tax professionals, like CPAs and enrolled agents, are less excited about CPE—Continuing Professional Education—today than they were 10, even 5, years ago. The tax cpe has come to be seen as, in the words of one blogging EA, a “necessary evil if you want to stay in the game.” There is doubtless a great deal of truth in this statement. CPE is essentially “R & D,” a big part of your product development. What is surprising is the rather laissez-faire attitude of many toward what seems a no-brainer. 99 % of what a tax professional brings to the table is his/her knowledge of taxation. Why wouldn’t an EA or CPA be more enthusiastic about making an investment that enhances this brain power?
Short Changing CPE A Big Mistake
Like most things in life, much of the resistance to tax cpe courses stems from concerns over—yes, you guessed it—money. A survey from several years ago found that the average annual “per professional” cost of CPE was nearly $1200 for firms that allow out-of-town CPE and $588 for those who only support local CPE. This covered firms of all sizes and from across the country. To make matters worse, a number of the firms surveyed discouraged, and in some cases turned down, out-of-town CPE for non-partners. Partners were also frequently criticized for attempting to fulfill tax continuing education requirements that required them to leave the office setting. Even more resourceful tax professionals, who opted to defray costs, and pursue online CPE, often got the run-around. This lack of institutional support for CPE is enormously counter-productive.
Under funding CPE budgets is not smart business, plain and simple. It is unspoken truth that great CPE is the key to continuously honing your product, especially in an increasingly competitive marketplace. With CPAs and enrolled agents growing in tangible numbers, it is highly probable that tax professions will need to proactively drum up business rather than waiting for clients to walk through the door. In recessionary times, with more tax payers opting to do their own returns, this is a virtual certainty.
Changing Perception of Time & Value of CPE
The present perception of time and value associated with tax continuing education is, in the context of most firms, skewed. One commentator captured this best when he reported the following encounter:
“I sat in a firm’s management meeting about a year ago. Going around the room, department managers were reporting their hours for July (lovely exercise…) and, especially the audit people, were hugely apologetic for the dip in “productive” hours compared to the prior July, defending that they had that huge time investment to get up to speed on all those new risk assessment standards. Honestly, I was mortified. Why on earth are people apologizing for gaining new skills and investing in the future! I absolutely spoke this point at my earliest opportunity and reminded this team that they should be CONGRATULATING themselves on this investment in education, and celebrating it. You should have seen the shift in mindset as the group realized this truth around the room—you could almost touch the change. Sometimes this obsession with hours really makes the profession operate backwards!
This needs to change so that tax professionals, like Regina Wilson, an EA out of Columbus, Ohio, feel able embrace enrolled agent continuing education again “without feeling like I’m cheating my boss.”
Developing a Plan of Attack & Strategy
Along with the problems mentioned is the total lack of planning when it comes to CPE. Enough firms are simply not strategic enough when it comes to the impact of continuing education on the bottom-line.
It goes without saying that continuing education is an absolute given if a firm wants to compete. It is also essential if a firm has any hope of curbing risk, and even more so if one intends to offer “specialized” services. As one tax executive put it, “We have to start putting our education time and money where our mouth is.” Acquiring specialized skills needed to compete in focused practice areas requires a well thought-out CPE plan. Too few tax firms have implemented such a plan despite making claims of possessing specialized accounting skills. In fact, according to the AICPA, the typical firm’s average investment in CPE is only about .8% of its revenue. In other words, most firms spend more on an internet connection than they are educating their staff.
To further put this in perspective, Closet Maid invested nearly 200 hours of training for a first year employee and 100 hours each subsequent year. This warrants asking the question: Is a company that installs closets really a bigger player in the knowledge business than the country’s tax professionals?
There’s no need to answer this—it’s a rhetorical question. But you should start rethinking your CPE strategy if you had to think about it!