Why Free CPE Is So Important to CPAs

John Kogan's Profile

We get this question a lot, “Does Illumeo provide free CPE?” The short answer is “yes”. The question I get asked by many folks in corporate L&D and by non-CPAs who manage CPAs is, “Why do CPAs need any CPE, much less ‘free CPE’?” Great questions. Turns out there’s more here than meets the eye!

Let’s start with basic principles: what is CPE? CPE stands for “Continuing Professional Education”, and what’s missing there is the word, “credit”, as in what CPAs, and many other kinds of certified professionals, e.g. CMAs, CIAs, CTPs, etc., need in order to maintain their professional certifications. CPAs in the US typically need an average of 40 CPE credits per year (or 80 hours every two years, or 120 hours every three years, it varies by state since the states set the specific rules, but you get the picture, it’s 40 hours/year, on average).

That means that a typical CPA has to take a full-time work week’s worth of continuing education every year in order to stay a CPA. And to a CPA there are few things more important than staying a CPA. Their job and career are very much counting on their maintaining their professional certification, which is a high value career asset (see what I did there? “asset”). This is a huge time commitment. It can also be a big financial commitment because CPE credit runs the gamut, from free to very expensive.

Let’s start with the expensive side first: Conferences and live, travel-based training. A quick Google search will show you that conferences that provide CPE credit easily run the range of $500 to $2,000 per day. Presuming 6 credits earned per day, that’s $83/credit up to $333/credit. Then add travel! A flight to anywhere and a night at a hotel run together run $500 to $1,500, and that’s if you book ahead. So now you’re looking at >$150/credit up to >$500/credit. No way anyone’s doing that without their company on the hook for the expense, even at the low end!

Now, even at a ridiculously low $100/credit, times 40 hours is $4,000/year for live learning. Of course this a primary reason why all of the other corporate functions have gone so dramatically to online learning over the past decade.

Online CPE runs from as low as $2/credit on unlimited platforms like Illumeo (where you can get your 120 credits for $199) up to roughly $20/credit on more expensive sites. That’s far better than live, but if your company isn’t paying for your CPE or if you work as an independent (e.g. consultant), it’s still money you’d rather not be spending!

Which brings us to “Free CPE”. The vast majority of Free CPE comes from sponsored webinars. The attendee gets to hear a brief (or very long) commercial for a sponsor (it’s not uncommon for the entire program to revolve around a demo for some product or service), plus some sort of actual learning, and they get their CPE for free. Remember the famous new economy adage, “IF THE PRODUCT IS FREE, YOU’RE THE PRODUCT”. Well, in the case of “sponsored” Free CPE, you’re very much the product and your name is being sold to sponsors. But at least it’s not money out of your pocket, it’s only time wasted fending off sales calls for a few years.

Then there’s unsponsored Free CPE, in which you’re still the product, but it may be more of a “try this for free to see how good our content is” sort of thing. This is what Illumeo does – it’s just a regular course taught by the original instructor, only done live and for free, to demonstrate the caliber of instruction.

In either case, Free CPE fills a need for those who can’t afford to underwrite CPE credit for their certification, but still very much need it in order to maintain their competitive edge. So, if you hear about CPAs or other certified professionals searching high and low for Free CPE, now you know why.