A commitment to life-long learning has always been an integral part of being a successful Chartered Accountant. Against a backdrop of intense scrutiny of the accountancy profession and increased regulatory expectations, the need to revisit what this means in practice has never been more relevant.
When ICAEW’s current Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme was introduced back in 2005, it’s fair to say that the move to an outputs-based model was progressive, explains Sharron Gunn, ICAEW’s Chief Operating Officer. “However, almost 20 years on, times have changed and our CPD policy must be adapted to reflect the increasingly complex world in which our members operate,” Gunn says.
“What’s also true is that external factors, notably increased regulatory expectations and the audit reform agenda, underline the need for ICAEW to act to maintain and enhance public trust in the profession,” she adds.
“There is an increasing expectation on the part of ICAEW’s oversight regulators that professional bodies should require more tangible evidence from members in relation to CPD,” adds Duncan Wiggetts, Chief Officer, Professional Standards at ICAEW, “and that this should be more closely and regularly monitored.”
The new policy, effective from November 2023, marks a shift away from an output-based model – where members currently complete an ‘appropriate’ amount of CPD, to a hybrid model with a stipulated requirement for a minimum number of hours. “This will bring ICAEW in line with several other professional bodies that now require minimum hours for CPD,” Gunn says.
From November 2023, all members (other than those that are retired) will be required to carry out a minimum number of CPD hours per year, including a minimum number of verifiable hours, with the number of hours varying depending on the role. The overarching principles of the existing CPD policy will remain, however, whereby members still need to consider their development needs and create an action plan, carry out their plan, evaluate its effectiveness and, at the end of the year, declare that they have complied, providing evidence of compliance if requested.
“The changes will provide our members with greater clarity regarding the amount of CPD they need to undertake,” Gunn says. Ultimately the profession at large will benefit from consistency of quality, but the approach recognises that a one-size-fits-all approach to CPD is neither desirable nor necessary.
From a practical perspective, it is difficult under the current policy for ICAEW to monitor and evaluate whether the amount of CPD completed is appropriate to members’ roles, explains Wiggetts. “The risk-based approach to minimum CPD hours is fair and proportionate and meets the needs of today’s profession.”
It is clear, he says, that many recent issues in the profession have hinged not just on a lack of technical understanding, but have also arisen due to ethical conflicts of interest and behavioural issues.
The introduction of a compulsory ethics requirement will help to address that, Wiggetts explains. From November 2023, members will need to complete mandatory training aligned to the ICAEW Code of Ethics each year. A new ethics learning programme is already in development and will be made freely available to members to make it easy for them to comply with this additional requirement.
“Over many years, ICAEW Chartered Accountants have established a reputation for their individual integrity and expertise and their collective commitment to serve the public interest. Ethical behaviour is vital to ensure compliance with the accountancy profession’s commitment to the public interest,” Wiggetts adds.
Wiggetts is keen to reassure members that the new CPD strategy does not signal a return to the old days of members having to go on courses in the last few days of a CPD year to meet their points requirements. “The definition of verifiable CPD will be broadened and will include reading materials, presentations, group discussions and other forms of content.” While there is already a lot of very good free learning content on the ICAEW website, work is underway to ensure that even more free content will be available that will count as verifiable CPD.
ICAEW’s Rethinking CPD project started 18 months ago and has included consultation with members, advisory groups and ICAEW Council. The principles of ICAEW’s new CPD policy were presented to ICAEW Council on 1 July and received overwhelming support; 97% of Council members voted in favour of the changes, after considering consultation feedback.
“Original plans to introduce the new CPD strategy in November this year were, however, pushed back following feedback from the consultation, to allow firms the necessary time to adapt their internal CPD systems and processes and to provide us with a longer period to explain the changes that are coming to our members so that no-one is caught by surprise,” Wiggetts says.
Ultimately, we need to remind members how CPD can benefit them directly, Wiggetts says. “It strengthens your professional credibility, gives you the skills and knowledge to do your role more effectively and prepares you for the challenges ahead. Undertaking CPD also demonstrates to your fellow members that you are invested in remaining proficient and at the forefront of the profession.”
Further details of the changes will be provided when the policy is finalised later this year, including how this will affect member firms, CPD categories and the definition of verifiable CPD, and will include illustrative examples and case studies.
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