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A New Business Plan for CPE

Joanne S. Barry

In the 40 years since its creation in 1972, the NYSSCPA's Foundation for Accounting Education has established itself as one of the Northeast's premier continuing professional education resources for high-quality, cost-effective seminars, conferences, and technical sessions for CPAs and other financial professionals.

While the FAE's primary mission has not changed during that time, the educational needs of the CPA profession it serves have evolved dramatically. Rapidly changing technologies and broad regulatory changes—such as New York's 2009 requirement that all licensed CPAs earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits and the state's new mandatory quality review program—oblige the FAE to adapt its content, and the channels by which it is delivered, in order to remain relevant as a CPE provider. As I traveled across New York State for the Society's annual Town Hall meetings, the FAE was the most popular topic of discussion, and many of our members echoed these same sentiments.

A New Plan

To address these changes, the FAE is kicking off the upcoming CPE season with an updated strategic business plan that identifies areas for improved cost effectiveness, better pricing strategies, and more effective positioning of the FAE in a rapidly changing and highly competitive marketplace. In addition to introducing new course content based on professionals' current needs, a major aspect of the plan is to better leverage the FAE's many known strengths: its reputation for high-quality CPE presented by top-tier speakers and experts, its access to top-talent through the Society's more than 50 technical committees, and its ability to reach more than 28,000 members through multichannel marketing and communications programs.

The plan identifies, analyzes, and interprets conference and session attendance trends, and changes in the profession as a whole, as a basis for how to improve the services it provides to professionals. From 2010 to 2011, for example, the FAE saw a 94% jump in webcast conference registrations—from 735 total registrations in 2010 (the year webcasts were introduced), to 1,428 in 2011. In a recent FAE survey, webcast attendees cited convenience as the primary factor in their participation, indicating that webcast popularity will continue to grow as more professionals become familiar with the format and seek convenient ways to satisfy CPE requirements. As a direct result of this feedback, the FAE's updated strategy offers more web-based options for CPE technical sessions and conferences.

Studying conference attendance also helped determine which FAE offerings were most valued by participants and which had seen decreased participation. Even as webcasts are rising in popularity, conference attendance continues to grow, providing valuable in-person networking opportunities and affirming that the FAE is meeting its core mission of providing high-quality CPE. Offering educational programs on a very broad range of topics has allowed the FAE to provide education opportunities for financial professionals in virtually all industries and specializations, but it has also created severe attendance and expense inequities across course and conference offerings. The FAE's new strategy better defines how it will continue to improve existing program offerings by developing more opportunities that meet the specific needs of professionals.

Rather than completely eliminate lesser-attended CPE programs, the FAE's new strategy will maximize CPE development through the NYSSCPA's technical committees, tapping into the expertise of NYSSCPA members to develop courses that meet the specific needs of professionals in those areas.

In the interest of keeping FAE products accessible to all professionals, reducing expenses remains high on the FAE's priority list. Plans to reduce costs include minimizing those factors that contribute to conference cancellations, exploring and expanding partnerships with other professional organizations, and building upon existing vendor partnerships.

This sweeping strategic update heralds an exciting time of growth and development for the FAE as it celebrates its 40th anniversary of delivering high-quality education to New York State CPAs.

The FAE relied heavily on feedback and input from program participants to guide the focus of its new strategy, but that doesn't mean your input is less useful now. On the contrary, feedback from program attendees will continue to be critical as the FAE implements new methods and processes, and I encourage you to provide your insight and offer comments whenever possible—and thank you for doing so.

Joanne S. Barry. Publisher. The CPA Journal, Executive Director, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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