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CPE compliance management: Taming the beast

Managing CPE compliance is a complex chore and a risky business. Individual practitioners and small firms may need support.

Sponsored by CPE Link

May 7, 2012
By Sue Anderson, executive director, CPE Link

 

With continually changing CPE requirements and a multiplying number of certifying bodies, managing CPE compliance has become a time-eating monster. The task has become too complex and risky to trust any longer to spreadsheets and paper files. Individual practitioners and firms alike need help taming the beast.

Recordkeeping for CPE compliance quickly gets out of hand as practitioners add licenses and certifications. Do I have copies of all my certificates? Has a requirement changed somewhere that I don’t know about? How can I keep better track of all my different reporting dates and deadlines? How can I satisfy the most requirements with the fewest courses? Am I prepared to pass not just one audit, but potentially two or three different ones, or has something fallen through the cracks? These are some of the many concerns that we at CPE Link, as providers of CPE, hear about all the time from the professionals we serve. For many of them, managing CPE compliance has reached a tipping point. It’s too complicated, and they are frustrated.

Accounting firms have a significant stake in CPE compliance, too. When professional staff fail to satisfy CPE requirements, firm reputations can be tarnished and client relationships may suffer. As a result, firms take on the burden of tracking CPE compliance to protect themselves and their clients, and as a convenience to their professional staff. However, firms take on a Herculean task when they take on CPE compliance management.

Complicated compliance profiles

Every member of the firm has a different compliance profile, creating a multi-headed monster to manage. Each individual may hold a unique mix of licenses and certifications, with different courses and hours required, and different dates and deadlines for reporting. Multiply that by 20, 50, or more personnel, and administrators face a complicated task that becomes more formidable as the firm grows. They have to identify all the requirements, calculate credits, spot shortfalls, understand varying rules for carrying credits back or forward, and juggle deadlines and reporting periods that are different for every individual they track. Firm administrators call us at CPE Link with questions because requirements can be so confusing.

Moving targets

Making the situation even more challenging, CPE and reporting requirements present a constantly moving target. Professionals are often licensed in multiple states and add specialized certifications to their qualifications. And on top of it all, regulating boards periodically make changes to the requirements. Twelve state boards of accountancy have recently posted changes that affect CPE compliance.

For 20 years, CPE compliance tracking at the Montana firm of Junkermier, Clark, Campanella, Stevens P.C. (JCCS) Certified Public Accountants and Business Advisors has been the project of Marilyn Bradshaw, director of Human Resources. After years of using first a spreadsheet and then proprietary software, Bradshaw knows well the limitations of common approaches to CPE compliance tracking. Her main criticisms concern the quality and accessibility of the information.

The Information is seldom current. CPAs submit copies of their certificates of course-completion for data entry when time permits, often months later.

The information isn’t easily accessible to the professional. CPAs get a status report for review once a year, after the rush of tax season abates. That isn’t enough, says Bradshaw. “We need a tool that allows individuals to look up where they currently stand on CPE compliance on a regular basis.”

A problem crying out for a web-based solution

At CPE Link, we took that plea to heart. There are high-end learning systems that offer a solution for large firms, but individuals and smaller firms need help, too. What would it take to reduce the burden of CPE compliance tracking at both the individual and the firm level? We asked professionals and firm administrators that question. The answers:

  • A smart application that “knows” and automatically updates the requirements for licenses and certifications
  • The ability for users to enter their own course data and upload copies of certificates for completed courses
  • An easy-to-understand dashboard that shows completed and outstanding requirements
  • Email reminders about compliance status and deficits
  • Ability for users to view their progress at any time, from their own digital devices (office and home computers, laptops and tablets, mobile phones)
  • Ability for firms to view the compliance status of all staff

CPE Link has incorporated these capabilities into its recently released Compliance Manager. Compliance Manager is an online tool that actively monitors the deadlines and subject requirements for each state board of accountancy for CPAs. It tracks and displays the user’s progress against the requirements, and it shows course options to fill deficits. With their CPE information up to date and so accessible, practitioners can rest a little easier and focus their time on more strategic pursuits like serving their clients and growing their practices.