How Can We Make CPA Professional Development More Valuable?

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to get more value out of your professional development?

As an accountant, you need to earn 80 hours’ worth of CPE credits every two years. Although this gives accountants plenty of opportunities for professional growth, many courses offering CPE credits aren’t beneficial for navigating the modern accounting industry. Many accountants only take these courses for the CPE credits rather than to continue their professional development. 

Here at Gusto, we aim to provide accountants with the best resources for career development. That’s why we presented an informative episode of our On the Margins: LIVE series all about professional growth. Will Lopez, head of Gusto’s accounting community, and Caleb Newquist, Gusto’s Editor-at-Large, host On the Margins: LIVE. Nayo Carter-Gray joined them to provide expert guidance in professional growth. Nayo is the CEO of 1st Step Accounting, where her goal is to “Make Accounting a Little Less Taxing® for small business owners.” 

Nayo shared insight into developing in the accounting profession including investing in people advisory, why confidence matters, and utilizing soft skills. 

We posted our On the Margins: LIVE episode to YouTube on July 20, 2021, and you can watch the entire episode here. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to learn more about accounting news and trends! 

Accounting career and professional development

Nayo specializes in helping small business owners with accounting and people advisory services. People advisory is a method of assisting businesses with people-focused operations such as payroll, benefits, and HR. Although Nayo has years of experience advising clients, she became a certified people advisor through Gusto to enhance her ability to help small businesses:

“When people [advisory] certification came up, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is an amazing concept because we’re already having similar conversations with our clients. … Let’s take it to the next level. Let’s figure out how to interpret the data even further and help our clients feel good, especially about hiring and having staff.’ In my experience working with a bunch of newer companies who are new to hiring, they’re really scared and nervous about the process, and so they come to us accountants looking for that comfort, … and so our job is to help put them at ease.”

Nayo Carter-Gray
Young professionals discussing ideas and planning work.

Small businesses often rely on their accountants for guidance, especially in employee management. Nayo noted that the accounting profession now has invaluable educational resources for helping clients. At the same time, many conventional accounting continuing education courses fail to update their material to reflect the current accounting world:

“Some of these instructors just really don’t have a clue. You can tell they’ve been teaching for years and aren’t really practicing. So the stuff that they’re teaching in the class is kind of outdated, or the people who are in the class are really just sitting in the seats so that they can get those CPE credits.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Accountants have the opportunity to undergo further professional development through earning CPE credits, but many only care about meeting the minimum CPE requirements rather than learning and growing in the profession. The accounting profession can bring more value to continuing education by updating its courses and offering real-world guidance for helping clients: 

“I felt it in my heart that [in] some kind of way we needed to change [continuing education]. … [Also], we have a shortage of accountants. Part of that has a lot to do with who we see teaching this information. We keep pushing these outdated concepts, and it’s like, this isn’t what’s going on right now. … Let’s switch it up. … Let’s be a little more engaging. Let’s show the people who aren’t in accounting that accountants … can break down that complex topic in simplified formats that the average person can understand.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Many continuing education courses aren’t beneficial for accountants’ growth and professional development. The profession needs to reform the way it educates people to attract more accountants and show them the best practices for assisting clients.

Projecting confidence to enhance professional development

Nayo discussed how one of the most significant hindrances for accountants is a lack of confidence. She noted that many accountants struggle with feeling inadequate because accounting wasn’t their first career:

“Accounting is one of those fields where we may have second-career people. So their degrees may be in something completely different, and then they get around a bunch of CPAs, and they start feeling inferior because they’re like, ‘Oh, my background is in psychology,’ [for example]. … [They don’t] realize that that is actually an asset because now you have insights that trained accountants may not have. … Some of my best training has come from non-accounting training.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Not every accountant started their professional life in the accounting profession, but that’s a benefit rather than an obstacle. Accountants can use the skills they acquired in other professions, such as communication and critical thinking skills, to enhance their accounting abilities.

Nayo also noted that accountants often struggle to admit that they don’t know about a subject. They fail to ask questions and seek assistance because they’re afraid of appearing dumb. 

“The biggest barrier is always around confidence. [Accountants are often afraid to say], ‘I’m not sure I understand this,’ or, ‘I don’t know about the tech,’ or I don’t know who to talk to.’ … They don’t want to seem like they’re asking a dumb question. We’ve seen people ask questions in a Facebook group and get slammed [with], ‘Oh, you need to take a class.’ … They just want some guidance, [so] push them along somewhere. Give them the first step because at some point we’ve all needed that.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Every accountant needs guidance from time to time, and accountants need to recognize the importance of supporting one another in the profession and encouraging people to ask questions. 

A group of young business professionals attending a presentation in a board room.

Without confidence, accountants may struggle to develop when facing adversity. Nayo discussed how she failed a Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) exam, but because she has a great deal of confidence in her accounting abilities, she recognizes that it’s only a setback: 

“I just recently failed my BEC exam by one point. … Now that journey is on pause. I am a competent accountant, but somebody else who may not have as much confidence or as much experience … [may] feel like, ‘I [have] got to quit accounting altogether. I have lost the ultimate trophy. I am not worthy [of being] in this profession.’ … I’m still in the profession. I just don’t have the designation, so it’s just really all about confidence.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

When accountants don’t have sufficient confidence, they may give up when facing adversity. You can strengthen your ability to continue your professional development by having the confidence to ask questions, seek assistance, and persist when facing setbacks. 

Soft skills are important

The accounting profession can significantly enhance accountants’ professional development by offering soft-skills training. Some courses already provide soft-skills training:

“You get to actually use [soft skills and] put them in practice. … It’s amazing what a little role-play can do. … I’ve seen accountants who’ve taken the training go from the shy little mouse in the corner to the loudest person in the room because now they’re like, ‘I’m ready to practice this and go out and try this on one of the clients. I may flub it, but guess what? My client is going to be happy that we’re having a conversation.’”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Role-playing is an effective tool for accountants because they can practice advising their clients. Having the ability to help clients with people advisory and other business operations will strengthen your professional relationships with them. 

Nayo recommends that accountants start with advising a single client and use them as a jumping-off point to advise others:  

“It only takes one client, and I say this because we all have one client that is either our favorite or that is really reliable and understanding. Talk to that one client, build a great relationship with that one client, [and] focus on them to help them grow and improve their business.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

When you focus on a single client, they will recommend you to others and offer referrals:

“They will sing your praises. A referral goes so much further than … paid marketing. So, I like to invest my time and energy in the people that I’m working with.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

Nayo also recommends that accountants rethink their professional relationships with the businesses they serve. Rather than thinking of small business owners as clients, think of them as partners.

“I say ‘my clients’ all the time, [but] they’re my partners. I partner with them to help them grow, and so [I] treat them as that partner. Just look at … your favorite [client], and once you build that relationship, try to duplicate it.”

Nayo Carter-Gray

When you change your perspective and begin viewing your professional relationships as partnerships, you shift how clients view your services. They’ll see you as an invaluable part of their company rather than a replaceable accountant. Focus on partnering with a single client, then continue developing your client base by partnering with more businesses. 

Learn more about accounting professional development

Although the accounting profession offers many opportunities for continuing education, many of the available resources contain material that’s no longer relevant for real-world accounting. What’s more, many accountants only take these courses to earn their minimum CPE credits. Accountants can add more value to their professional development by developing soft skills and gaining confidence in their accounting abilities. Additionally, accountants interested in assisting clients with people-based operations can earn people advisory certification

If you want to learn more from Nayo, you can watch the entire On the Margins: LIVE episode here. Also, be sure to look into Part One of this article series.

Fortunately, Gusto offers a People Advisory Certification program worth 5.0 CPE credits. With Gusto’s People Advisory Certification, you’ll join a community of accountants and bookkeepers building for the future. As a People Advisor, you can better serve your clients and their incredible teams. Get certified.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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