Happy New Year. Welcome to 2016. What does that mean for you? Do you have big plans for the year ahead? What would you like to change this year?

Here at accountingcpd.net we would like to help people to change in two ways:

  1. We'd like to help people achieve their longer term career goals
  2. We'd like to persuade more people to plan their CPD early, spread it across the year and not leave it till the last moment
Of course these two seemingly separate objectives are interlinked. If you leave your CPD until the last minute, it does tend to follow that you end up focusing on short term needs because you don’t have time to reflect on longer term issues. But why do we think they are important enough that we want to help you address them?

The second of the two is easier to explain. It seems self-evident that if we spread our CPD activity out across the year, and take the trouble to plan it carefully, then it is more likely that we can engage with it thoughtfully and get the maximum value from it. It is all squashed into the last month then we are likely to rush it.

But what about the first objective about longer term career aspirations? When we talk career planning we tend automatically to think of people starting out – the newly qualifieds. At that point we are considering whether we want to work in practice or in business, whether we want to be a specialist or a generalist. Anything seems possible and it is obvious that we need to give it some thought.

But in fact, at all stages of our career we have ambitions for how we would like things to pan out:

  • In mid-life we may have work-life balance concerns. How can I earn the money I need to meet what are often at that time considerable obligations, while being able to spend more time with my family?
  • Towards the end of our careers, we might be thinking about how we can reduce our hours – perhaps pass on some of the more time consuming routine tasks and maintain higher value consultancy work.
Too often these remain vague aspirations that we revisit in a resigned way at New Year but don't do much about. And of course that is set to remain the case if we then leave any sort of self-development thinking until close to the CPD deadline the next year.

But here's the killer, and the reason why all of this has become so much more important over the last 2 to 3 years. Technology is changing our profession. More and more of the routine transactional work is being automated. In a recent research project at Oxford University accounting jobs were predicted to be among the most likely to be automated. It is no longer going to be enough to add up the numbers and file the correct returns. That service is becoming more and more commoditised.

What business owners and managers need is really high value advice from someone with an understanding of the financials. How does their margin compare to that of other similar businesses? What KPIs should they be tracking? How can they achieve a more positive cash conversion?

When talking about this, we frequently use the concept of the T-shaped accountant. The idea is the vertical bar represents a professional's technical skills and knowledge. These must be kept up to date and relevant. But just as important is the horizontal bar, which represents their broader capabilities – understanding of the business context, ability to explain things to non-financial colleagues working in teams, exercising appropriate and constructive professional scepticism.

So this year, when thinking about your CPD, follows these simple rules:

  1. Plan early enough to enable you to address longer term ambitions carefully and effectively.
  2. Think about your broader skills and knowledge as well as the technical updates.
  3. Be prepared to change your plan during the year to address any issues that emerge and don't use the fact that you don't yet know what will be important as an excuse not to plan at all.
Happy New Year!