By Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity Global Alliance
More than ever, accounting professionals are turning to Praxity Global Alliance – the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting and consulting firms – to help meet the challenge of Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
What makes Praxity-hosted events so popular is the Alliance is officially authorised to offer CPD-accredited training to professionals within participant firms as well as their clients and prospects.
For any professional embarking on a career in accountancy, becoming qualified is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning.
This career-long CPD journey, known as CPE (Continuous Professional Education) in the US, is “essential to remain relevant in an ever-changing world”, according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
It may come as a surprise for those outside professional services, but CPD is a requirement in accountancy, not just something individuals merely choose to do in order to better themselves and become experts in their chosen field. However, a career of lifelong learning is no means easy to navigate.
As part of their CPD, accounting professionals must document the skills, knowledge and experience they gain, formally and informally during their career to create a kind of portfolio of personal development.
The type of learning can be very different depending on which career path an individual chooses to follow, which CPD option they choose to learn, and where in the world they are based. Moreover, the content of CPD is continually changing to reflect changes in the profession and global trends in business. So too are the ways in which credits can be obtained, from webinars and online courses to conferences.
This is where membership of Praxity Global Alliance has substantial benefits. Because of the CPD training acquired by senior managers at Praxity head office in the UK, the Alliance is able to offer a unique CPD-accredited facility to partners and firms, regardless of their home institute requirements.
Indeed, Praxity Executive Director Graeme Gordon and Head of Business Development Deborah Poulter are both certified as ‘sponsors’ for the US National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and are thus allowed to issue NASBA-accredited CPE.
This allows the Praxity team to stage international events throughout the year enabling employees of participant firms – and often their clients and prospects – to enrich their knowledge and expertise while gaining valuable CPD ‘credits’.
These events, which include the highly successful Global Conference and North American International Tax Conference, attract ever greater numbers of delegates from all over the world. They often feature highly specific training on the distinctive challenges facing accounting professionals in the digital age, with industry-leading speakers providing critical insight.
Not only does this provide an opportunity for personal growth, but it allows delegates to share expertise with colleagues and prepare for future challenges. This in turn puts Praxity participant firms in a better position to provide world class services for clients with domestic and international operations.
Among the professionals to benefit is Kathryn Byrne, New York City-based Practice Leader of Manufacturing and Distribution for Mazars USA and member of the Nominating Committee of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). A strong advocate of CPD, Kathryn says it is “very important” to an individual’s development and growth, adding that “Praxity puts together quality CPD” opportunities for accounting professionals around the world.
While the chance to meet fellow professionals and share expertise may be the main draw at Praxity CPD-accredited events, many individuals attend specifically to learn new skills and collect CPD credits.
A recent North American tax conference in Chicago, for example, allowed delegates to gain 15 hours of CPD. This wasn’t just a learning opportunity for Praxity participant firms. The tax conference is also a major draw for these firms’ clients and prospects.
“The NA International Tax Conference is structured for considerable CPD and people do go for that reason,” Kathryn explains. “We are a continuous learning profession. We need to continue to be learning.”
Another leading professional who collects credits at Praxity events is Steffen Ahrens, a Partner at German firm FALK GmbH & Co KG, whose specialities include US GAAP and IFRS.
“If you are visiting a conference it often comes in handy that there is the opportunity to earn credits, especially for those like me who have to earn credits not only to keep their local professional title, but also to fulfil the CPE requirements of a US CPA,” Steffen says. “I attend a lot of the Praxity conferences, including the Global Tax Conference and the North American tax conference. All of these are CPD opportunities and normally they bring me up to the CPD level required.”
Why is CPD so important?
The importance of quality CPD cannot be underestimated. It helps individuals keep abreast of the latest developments in the profession, especially the growth of digital technology, as well as changes to legislation and working practice.
It can also be argued it plays a major factor in job satisfaction and the development of outstanding client relationships. The more knowledgeable and up to date its employees, the better placed an accountancy firm will be to meet the needs of its clients.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) neatly describes CPD as “designed to develop your expertise within your individual role and help you maintain that edge throughout your career”.
However, embarking on lifelong learning in the accountancy profession is complicated by the fact that CPD can differ significantly in different countries as well as at domestic level.
The ICAEW, for example, requires its members to submit a CPD declaration every year evidencing the completion of various CPD activities. However, members do not need to achieve a certain number of hours or points.
This contrasts with the requirements of ACCA, which states members need to complete 40 hours of CPD annually, of which 21 units must be verifiable and 19 units non-verifiable (not related to a specific outcome).
To ascertain if the CPD is verifiable, members must be able to answer the questions:
1. Was the learning activity relevant to your career?
2. Can you explain how you applied the learning in the workplace?
3. Can you provide evidence that you undertook the learning activity?
Different records must be kept depending on whether the ACCA member obtains CPD via the unit route, ACCA-approved employer route or via the International Federation of Accountants.
This contrasts with the requirements of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which represents the CPA profession in the US in terms of rule-making and standard-setting.
The AICPA requires individuals to prove attendance and participation and members must complete 120 hours or its equivalent of CPD every three years. Every 50 minutes spent in a learning programme equates to 1 hour of CPD.
CPD is further complicated in the US by the fact that some states have additional requirements. These are outlined on the website of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
Kathryn Byrne explains: “Each country does do it a little bit differently and, in the US, each state has different requirements. It is a complex area.” Steffen Ahrens adds: “Illinois, for example, requires four hours of ethics CPD on top of the standard training.”
There are also differences in the content and availability of CPD globally, especially in terms of learning about and handling advances in new technology – one of the biggest issues facing the profession. However, this does seem to be improving. Praxity, for example, has been increasing learning opportunities in this area at recent conferences.
The need for CPD to reflect changes in accountancy and global business is highlighted in a new report from ACCA entitled Learning for the Future. It states accounting professionals will be increasingly required to broaden their skill-set and take ownership of their personal development if they are to succeed in an ever-changing, dynamic world.
The report also notes that while digital solutions are increasing, social interactions to reinforce learning are ever more essential in turning learning content, especially that provided online, into effective skills and capability.
Alan Hatfield, ACCA’s Executive Director of Strategy and Development, says while accounting professional need to be technically competent, “they also need to have the softer skills required for the value-added aspects of their role”. He adds: “As the pace of change progresses so we need to ever more refresh and build upon our skills to remain relevant."
Meeting the challenge
The good news is there is a huge number of ways CPD credits can now be obtained, including webinars, podcasts, online articles, learning at work, face-face-courses, discussion groups, coaching, networking and undertaking research. This makes lifelong learning that much easier to integrate into an accounting professional’s calendar.
As the way we work changes, so too does CPD. There are clearly areas for improvement, including the need for greater global uniformity but there is no doubt the need for quality lifelong learning will remain as important as ever. Being part of the Praxity ‘family’ will help accounting professionals meet the challenge.