Why CPE Credit Shouldn’t be the Driving Force Behind Accountant Education

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to continue developing your professional accounting skills?

As an accountant, you already earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits, but you can develop further by taking on additional educational opportunities such as certifications.

Here at Gusto, we aim to give accountants optimal tools for developing professionally. That’s why we presented an exceptional episode of our On the Margins: LIVE series featuring Will Lopez, head of Gusto’s accounting community, and Caleb Newquist, Gusto’s Editor-at-Large. 

In addition to this article, Part One of the series, you can read Part Two to learn about adding more value to your professional development. You can also watch the entire episode here, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to learn more about accounting news and trends. 

Will and Caleb had a detailed discussion about how accountants can develop professionally to improve their abilities to serve clients. In this article, you’ll learn about how to move beyond CPE credits to gain additional skills and certifications and what’s lacking in accounting academia. 

Earning CPE credits and certifications

Will and Caleb discussed how professional development is vital for the accounting profession. Professional development is the starting point where accountants learn and grow in their skills: 

“Professional development really is almost like the catalyst to really thinking differently. It’s the lever that I think professionals pull on in order to reorient themselves around any kind of new concept, any kind of new offering, any kind of seriousness of, ‘Okay, I’m going to adopt this.’”

Will Lopez

When accountants focus on professional development, they can learn new skills and incorporate them into their practices. Although accountants primarily develop through learning and implementation, they often focus primarily or even exclusively on earning CPE credits. Certified public accountants are required to earn these credits, and accountants view them as tangible proof of professional development:

“The way [accountants] go about it is like, ‘I get a CPE credit on it, and that makes me official, and so, therefore, I have the confidence to implement whatever the CPE told me to get.’ I think there’s an interesting circadian rhythm to professional development where it’s like, ‘I can’t move forward unless I get the badge and I get the sticker and I get the CPE credit and I’m official.’”

Will Lopez
Young businesswoman sitting on steps of staircase with laptop on her knees and searching for information in the net.

Accountants often see CPE credits as necessary for professional development. Caleb noted that people also heavily emphasize earning accounting certifications:

“I think there’s something to the certification, the kind of credibility that comes along with stuff like that. So the CPA, for example, has been a designation for a long time, and to go through the process, go through the examination to become [a CPA] and the work requirements [are] really rigorous. … A lot of certifications that have some legacy behind [them] … [like] certified management accountant (CMA), certified valuation analysts (CVA), [and] certified financial planners (CFA)—a lot of these have been around for a long time, and people have been obtaining them for a long time.”

Caleb Newquist

Accountants value professional development and continuing education, and they emphasize receiving certifications as proof that they are qualified to utilize their new skills. 

“Accountants want to educate themselves in an area, and then they kind of want the medal at the end. … They want the thing that says that they’re a CPA, that they’re a CMA, [or] that they’re certified in whatever platform.”

Caleb Newquist

Accountants often want to learn more about their profession and develop new skills, and they can develop further by moving beyond earning their base CPE requirements in order to improve their skill sets. 

Moving beyond CPE credits 

Although accountants typically start their professional development journeys through earning CPE credits, that’s only the beginning of their continuing education. Accountants can move beyond CPE credits and enhance their ability to serve clients by completing a people advisory certification program. 

“Platforms like Xero and QuickBooks have been doing their [advisory certification programs] for a long time. … [Accountants are] initially introduced to it through a webinar, which, again, they get the CPE so they can keep their CPA license current. These things kind of get introduced in interesting ways, but then you could go become [a professional advisor].”

Caleb Newquist

Accountants can continue developing professionally and widen their skill sets through a people advisory program. Here at Gusto, we offer a People Advisory Certification program that aims to help accountants advise clients in people-based operations such as payroll, benefits, and HR:  

“We have a People Advisory Certification. … In our case, we tried to make it very intentional. We tried to make it very prescriptive. … We tried to do something that was pretty unique in the sense that we kind of tapped into this advisory trend or this advisory phase that the accounting profession has kind of embarked on and said, ‘Okay, let’s lean into this a little bit.’ … It’s beyond the kind of compliance work that’s been historically performed by accountants.”

Caleb Newquist

People advisory certification educates accountants so that they can offer services beyond traditional accounting offerings. 

What’s missing in formal accountant education? 

Mature students sitting at desks in class.

Although accounting academia has much to offer accountants, it doesn’t teach them certain critical skills for success. Caleb noted that academic environments don’t teach soft skills such as developing effective communication with clients:

“As far as academic background is concerned, it’s hard to say whether or not that’s the appropriate place to even learn those skills because you’re in an academic environment. … There’s only so much that an academic setting can prepare you for, and so you really learn those skills on the job. Perhaps there’s room for more, but the curriculum is pretty robust already, and there’s an argument to be made for all kinds of different things that accountants should be learning.”

Caleb Newquist

Accountants don’t learn the best practices for communicating with clients in academic settings. Caleb speculated that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) or another accounting organization could start offering communication certifications. 

“You’d be a certified thought leader in communication, and then you’ll see a bum rush of accountants getting certified in this communication credential. That’s probably where it’s going to go because that’s kind of how accountants do things.”

Caleb Newquist

Will cited a quote from The Practice of Now 2020 report that emphasizes the importance of communication skills in the accounting profession:

“It’s from The Practice of Now, from a Canadian retail business owner, [and] he says quote, ‘We expect our accountants to be tremendously good at interpersonal skills. The ability to communicate and interact with people helps make things transparent and understandable in a better way. Technical skills and flexibility also keep us loyal to our accountant.’ … What [businesses] really expect is a person to communicate these super technical jargons [in ways] that [a] five-year-old can understand so [they] can make great business decisions.”

Will Lopez

As an accountant, you can enhance your ability to form strong professional relationships by improving your interpersonal skills. Will noted that the academic setting might not be the best place to learn about developing effective communication with clients, but the emerging advisory education platform could be an ideal setting for those skills:

“What if this soft skill that normally would be learned on the job would be learned in [a] very modern, advisory-oriented education? … I have a master’s in accounting, and … I did not take a class on how to dumb down this very technical jargon. … I think even accountants suffer [because] their engagement letters [use] very technical jargon [that their] clients [can’t fully] understand.”

Will Lopez

Will described how accountants can use people advisory to role-play and practice communicating with clients. 

“There is an element in [a people advisory certification program] that you go through where you should be practicing and role-playing. … I think there’s always an element of testing what you’re learning, even if it’s with the other students in the room.”

Will Lopez

Accounting is about more than just bookkeeping—it’s about growing in your ability to assist clients through clear and effective communication so that your clients can make better business and financial decisions.  

Learn more about accounting continuing education 

Although it’s critical for accountants to earn CPE credits, they can move beyond earning credits to continue developing as people advisors. Accountants can enhance their ability to assist clients by earning additional certifications such as People Advisory Certification. Additionally, accountants can continue developing and improving their ability to assist clients by working on their communication skills.

If you’re ready to learn more about developing in the accounting profession, read Part Two of this article series. You can also watch the entire On the Margins: LIVE episode here

Are you unsure how to get started with continuing your professional development? Check out Gusto’s People Advisory Certification program! Join a community of accountants and bookkeepers building for the future with our People Advisory Certification and Gusto Pro’s modern tools. 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.
Back to top