If you’re a CPA or virtually any other kind of certified professional, this question will vex you for the duration of your career. Not so much the “what is CPE” part. That’s simple. CPE or “Continuing Professional Education”, a.k.a. CE or RCH or RCU (or other things as well) are education requirements that you, dear working professional, must fulfill in order to maintain your certification as a CPA – or whatever you are.

Tracking Your CPE

Thus, once you sit for and pass those CPA exams the nightmare is not over. Every year or two (or three), you must complete a certain number of hours of continuing education, and attest to that fact to your state or other organizing body, in order to keep your certification current. Needless to say, losing your certification as a CPA or similar professional can be a career killer. Or it can at least put a real dent in your earnings if you desire to continue pursuit of a career in accounting (or finance, internal audit, tax, or many other things).

So you need to get your 20 to 40 hours per year (depending on your certification type and location) and you need to fill out some paperwork and submit it to someone, and then you can continue going about your CPA-ing business. This keeps your skills fresh and has given rise to an entire industry dedicated to providing you with CPE credits. By the way, if you thought that keeping you up to date on the latest and greatest was the only concern of those making you earn CPE, and that CPE revenue didn’t come in to the equation, we have a bridge to sell you.

Who Cares About Your CPE?!?

If you’re a CPA, certainly you. Losing a certification is distinctly painful and can cost you in many ways. It costs time, as a few folks I know can attest, in working with the proper authority to figure out how to get back in line with the CPE requirements. Then it takes time to do the CPE earning, which may be over and above the typical requirements because, well, you have to ‘catch up’ on your CPE.
It’s also painful from a revenue perspective. And by revenue I mean personal revenue. Most CPAs are CPAs because it helps them earn more money than if they weren’t. For instance, CPA Bookkeepers can typically charge more for their services than non-CPA bookkeepers. Ditto for corporate accounting professionals and most other roles that look for certification in some of its practitioners. As it happens, tons of corporate accounting professionals are not CPAs, but some are and they tend to be in higher level positions that earn more. And if you’re trying to find a job or a ‘gig’ (if you’re a contractor/consultant), that CPA will make it that much easier.
So, if you’re without your credential, it hurts!

In fact, we’re seeing an increasing trend of companies looking for “credentialed” professionals. Even if someone is perfectly capable of, say, doing the debits and credits and GL transactions associated with their job, the company seems to want to cover its risks by having a certified professional in that position, all things being equal. Now, things are not equal, and since those folks tend to cost more, not all corporate and firm positions in the accounting, tax, finance, audit and related areas have these certified professionals in every role. There’s not even enough supply to do that at all companies. But signs clearly point to certification and credentialing as a major trend for firms and companies, whether you’re full-time or a contractor or consultant. Expect this trend to continue!

So What Now?

Clearly, CPE is of strategic importance to those counting on their credentials. Now’s the time to be sure you have your CPE in order by checking on your state’s (or association’s) statutes, collecting your current-term CPE records, and seeing how you’re doing vis-à-vis your current CPE requirements.

How do you track your CPE? Spreadsheet? Word Doc? Folder of loose papers??? You really don’t want to lose track of your CPE, or literally lose CPE. Do you have a nagging feeling that you attended a 2 credit workshop earlier in the year but you just can’t find the certificate of completion? That sort of thing drives even detail-oriented folks like CPAs crazy. You definitely want a method – or better yet, some actual CPE tracking tools.

Best would be a CPE tracker that tells you what you have due and when. Some jurisdictions are truly complex, with multi-year reporting requirements, layered dates and topics, and challenging reporting. You’ll want to investigate such solutions to see whether you could be making your life significantly easier.

There are many tools to help you earn and track CPE, but those are the subject of future articles.