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CPD: an opportunity and a differentiator

Accountants have the privilege of being the trusted business adviser to their clients and colleagues. Continued professional development (CPD) is an essential, underrated and expected part of the job, writes Institute of Financial Accountants chief executive John Edwards.

Whether they are operating in business as a CFO, finance director or financial controller, or in practice offering accountancy services to the general public and their businesses, accountants are seen as the ‘professional expert’, the go-to person for business and personal advice.

It is similar to the trust in authority given to doctors or dentists, where expertise is expected and assumed. Accountants have an exceptional initial grounding in academic learning overseen by their professional accountancy body and years of hands-on experience, culminating in designatory letters, but it is essential to keep up to date in an environment where there is constant legislative and regulatory change. That is where CPD comes in – an essential, underrated and expected part of being an accountant.

When it comes to the topic of CPD, accountants typically fall into two schools of thought. A majority consider CPD in terms of the cost to the business – time, money and effort – while a smaller collective view CPD as an opportunity – to keep up to date and legally compliant, and to use as a differentiator from the competition.

What is clear regardless is that all too often CPD becomes an afterthought in the annual fiscal plan, with our recent research identifying that one in five accountants complete at least 50% of their annual CPD requirement within 30 days of deadline, and that one in 12 accountants do not prioritise enough verifiable CPD each year. 

As a professional body, we set an annual CPD requirement for all members of 40 hours per annum, made of at least 50%, but preferably 75%, verifiable sources. We consider CPD an essential part of running a business. It is about maintaining competence in every aspect of the services you offer to clients, and plays an essential role in retaining repeat custom and attracting new clients – not to mention being a mandatory requirement of your professional body. 

Effective Planning

Maximising the effectiveness of CPD most simply comes down to planning.

Our research has highlighted a trend of ‘last-minute’, which adds a sense of pressure and feelings of ‘cost’ to the business. Instead, we recommend a more planned annual schedule – at the beginning of each year, reflecting on the services you offer, self-reflecting on your own skills, reviewing the speed of change for your services, and then spreading this out over the course of 12 months.

Assuming a true annual calendar, 50% of your CPD should be selected and booked before January to complete by June, with the remaining 50% of hours to be completed in the second half, or more usefully to be allocated to reactive topics in line with legislative updates and roll-out from government. This way, it becomes an easy, manageable opportunity for the business, and assures considered value rather than a mad scramble to comply. 

Considering CPD as an opportunity may be a thought-shift, but it is a valid one. Differentiation is a core benefit – putting you ahead of the competition and establishing reputation as a niche specialist or market leader with cutting-edge knowledge.

So too is the upsell potential, using your new-found knowledge as a marketing tool to gain more work – indeed one of our member firms, More Than Accountants in Bolton, used Making Tax Digital to nearly double its turnover for the year.
Finally there are the tangential benefits: being part of a learning community, gaining expert support, feeding an inquisitive mind and generally gaining confidence in areas of weakness.

If you are still not sold on the advantages of early CPD planning, then consider it in terms of risk to your business. You may not have had any tangible consequences from poor CPD planning (yet), but that does not mean risk in the future does not exist. At best, being out of date or behind the curve will result in a loss of clients – you are not providing the service that they expect of you. At worst, the danger of out-of-date knowledge is the direct cost of claims on your professional indemnity insurance, and potentially your entire business and livelihood – plus, you can be referred to the regulatory committee and fined for non-compliance too. 

Our advice: make CPD an essential part of your monthly workload and plan it to coincide with natural troughs in the fiscal calendar. Pick training that is relevant and timely and has the added benefit of academic endorsement where possible, as well as an established learning community for peer advice and support.

Finally, do not leave it to the last minute. It can diminish the relevance and value of CPD, and you deserve better than that! 

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