The Debate: Mandatory CPD

Keep the public confident

By Eileen Cummins

Restoring the public’s confidence in the accountancy profession, following the corporate failures at Enron, WorldCom and elsewhere, is of paramount importance.

The profession, government and regulators are all keen to demonstrate that accountants are fully competent to perform their duties and that they do so with a strong awareness of the public interest.

Mandatory participation in a well-designed continuing professional development (CPD) scheme is one of the very practical ways in which these good intentions can be translated into positive actions.

But the case for CPD is not just about the crisis of confidence in the profession. The world around us is changing fast. Few would dare to predict with confidence what our organisations and our jobs will be like in five or 10 years’ time.

Against this backdrop, it is a simple business imperative that all modern professionals must ensure their skills and knowledge are constantly reviewed and kept up-to-date. The risks and possible consequences of failing to do so are painfully serious.

Keeping heads down and hoping that the pressure for mandatory CPD will go away is not a good strategy. Regulators are already on the case and are likely to remain so.

In the UK, a Review Board study is currently on hold as our regulatory structures are revamped, but make no mistake, it is likely to be reactivated when normal service is resumed. And internationally, the International Federation of Accountants is placing ever stronger emphasis on mandatory CPD. In many ways the choice is to be proactive or wait to be pushed.

One of the big challenges for the profession is to get these messages across. There are lots of unhelpful myths around like those that see CPD as being exclusively about keeping up-to-date on arid technical matters or only about attending courses.

We need to promote the benefits and values that individuals can gain for themselves, their employers and clients from taking a thoughtful and systematic approach to their CPD. – Eileen Cummins is the CPD manager at CIPFA

  • Eileen Cummins is the CPD manager at CIPFA

CPD should be voluntary
By Ciaran Guilfoyle

Mandatory CPD will do more harm than good. For one thing, mandatory development will be a contradiction in terms. The spirit of development can only be a voluntary impulse, based on a desire to better yourself, or at least further your career.

The idea of compulsion goes against this spirit, and is more akin to the education of school children. Like a stern head teacher, CIPFA might well be able to compel its accountants to go through the motions of development, but can development itself be made mandatory? Of course not.

There are, however, greater issues at stake, which could have long-term, undesirable consequences. First of all, a mandatory CPD scheme could undermine our ability to form reliable judgements about our colleagues.

This knowledge is crucial to our daily performance. It may often be based on casual and informal judgements, but it is more than just an expression of personal prejudice. It represents the casting of a serious, professional judgement based on our own experience of the work situation.

Regardless of whether the accountant on the next desk has a bulging record of CPD activity, we will continue to form these judgements based on his or her actual performance.

CIPFA council, in its attempt to justify a mandatory scheme, has claimed that ‘professionals are no longer held in awe and automatically assumed to know best’. But the reputation of our profession is unlikely to be restored through enforced paperwork.

A second consideration to bear in mind is this: mandatory CPD will, over, time reduce the value of the CIPFA qualification. The implicit message behind CPD is that the qualification by itself is not good enough. It needs constant topping up, or you might as well file your CIPFA certificate in the waste-paper basket.

To say all this is not to decry continuing our professional development.

It is important that we learn from what we do, on the job, from reading, from studying, or from training courses. In fact, the benefits of learning are so palpable that there is very little reason to promote it with such an evangelical vigour.

  • Ciaran Guilfoyle, CIPFA member.

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