All CPAs know that a minimum of 40 CPE hours are required every year to keep their licenses current, but many firms expect their professionals to double that. Inside Public Accounting (IPA) spoke recently with Atlanta-based Gifford, Hillegass & Ingwersen, which encourages its professionals to earn 80-plus hours of CPE annually. IPA wanted to know if the firm is seeing a return on its investment, what skills it is trying to develop and how its philosophy fits into the current economic environment.
Firm leaders tell IPA that a high-CPE culture is rooted in the desire to maintain a competitive edge, attract quality recruits, keep existing employees happy, groom future leaders for the firm, develop niche specialties, and perhaps most importantly, to provide clients with the best answers to their specific problems.
Gifford, Hillegass & Ingwersen stood out in IPA's 2008 Annual Survey and Analysis of Firms. The expectation is 80 hours, and the firm invests $5,700 per professional.
Jo Ann Cory is the Chief Leaming Officer at GH&I (FY08 net revenue of $16.2 million), an IPA Best of the Best firm. Cory coordinates and teaches some of the firm's courses, oversees the firm's mentoring program and coaches individuals at the firm, many of whom earn twice the required amount of CPE every year.
"We don't mandate it every year, but that's what happens based on all the programs we offer," she said.
Cory says the culture of the firm - to provide timely, creative and superior service - combined with the nature of the industry, with its constantly changing regulations and technology upgrades, drives the firm to offer a wide variety of training alternatives for everyone from the receptionist to the CEO.
GH&I participates in national training programs offered by the Rainmaker Academy, Boomer Consulting and the Leading Edge Alliance. Sales and marketing have been a particular focus, as the firm hired its first marketing director last year. Time management, client service and technology updates are also covered. Informal "on the deck" chats are held during the summer at partners' homes, where they share their experiences in developing relationships and winning new business.
Some staff members conduct all training in-house; others seek more specialized training externally—depending on individual goals, Cory said. That one-on-one planning is popular with staff. The No.1 response to an annual GH&I survey question, “What do we do well?” is, "The outstanding training program," Cory tells IPA.
GH&I has no plans to cut back on training—recession or not. "We might have to do more online training and webinars as opposed to traveling, but if anybody makes a business case for training they need, we'll look at it on a case-by-case basis," she said.