How to get life-changing results from your CPD

Three AAT award-winners have taken continuing professional development (CPD) to the next level, making real changes within their lives. From overcoming anxiety to saving millions of pounds for clients, find out how they’ve done it.

Whenever the words ‘continuing professional development’ (CPD) crop up in the workplace, it’s all too easy to dismiss it as another pointless box-ticking exercise from HR; an unnecessary distraction from the realities of your day-job.

Given that CPD is ongoing, generally not urgent, and relies upon you alone to complete (rather than a boss breathing down your neck), this often means it gets shunted to the bottom of to-do lists… 

However, done properly, CPD can reap real benefits.

We often acquire skills, knowledge and experience in our jobs without us even realising. Keeping a document of these skills – either in a Word document, software such as Trello/Xero or a physical folder – is a brilliant way of keeping track of your progress.

It helps identify any weaknesses and set achievable goals. And in the ever-changing world of accountancy, it’ll help you keep up-to-date with important legislation, technological developments, or even the latest Making Tax Digital news.

Best of all, at some point during your continuous professional development, you’ll see exactly how much you’ve improved. It’s a massive confidence boost.

Not only does CPD enhance professional skills, making you more employable, but it can also improve your personal life too (see Jay’s story below). From overcoming social anxiety to securing new clients, here are three AAT members on how CPD empowered massive changes in their lives.

“CPD helped me tackle my social anxiety” – Jay Wilson

For Jay Wilson MAAT AATQB, 35, CPD was an essential tool in helping him overcome intense social anxiety.

Jay says: “All I had to say was a couple of words. Just a sentence or two updating colleagues at the weekly team meeting. But the words wouldn’t come. Instead, an incoherent stream of stutters and stammers gushed from my mouth. My hands shook, a violent red rash erupted across my face, and I found myself frozen to the spot.

My heart-rate rocketed; I developed sweat patches like you wouldn’t believe. The 20-or-so people in the room were all looking up, confused. It was, without question, the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.

Where this social anxiety came from is a mystery; I’d never suffered from anything like it before. But I soon found myself dreading these weekly meetings. I reached out to my employer who advised participating in even more meetings. This made things worse!

The anxiety soon spiraled out of control. The problem became all-consuming; I would think about little else. I started calling in sick to avoid these team meetings. Before long, I’d lost my job.

To pick myself up, I started studying AAT and was hired by Allay. It went well; I was promoted to Finance Manager within months. But any happiness ended when I discovered the new role involved presenting to the board of directors. My social anxiety came flooding back.

Overcoming my social anxiety

This time, I was determined not to let my public speaking phobia get the better of me. So when I spotted an AAT ‘CPD challenge’ advert, I applied. It would culminate in me giving a presentation at AAT’s London headquarters. That thought was terrifying. But having come this far in my career, I wasn’t going to risk social anxiety ruining it.

I set up a Microsoft Word document detailing my CPD. I started with a list of objectives I wanted to achieve, such as gaining my MAAT professional membership status, getting a promotion and gaining confidence to deliver presentations. I then highlighted ways I would achieve this.

Plus, anytime I learned something new at work, even a mistake, I included it in the document. YouTube was also a great help, whether it was videos on ‘How to talk in meetings’ or breathing techniques.   

When I arrived for the presentation in London, not only was there an assessor (speaking coach Alexandra Bond Burnett of Bond Ambition) but an entire camera crew too. It was nerve-wracking, but the social anxiety didn’t come back. Instead, I found myself speaking for 10 minutes on my topic (stereotypes in accountancy). It was a real breakthrough.

The experience of presenting professionally at the AAT headquarters –  along with Alexandra’s advice and the CPD work I’d undertaken – has instilled a new confidence in me when presenting. Yes, I still occasionally stutter when meeting the directors. But instead of panicking, I acknowledge the fear and move on.

Developing business marketing skills

And the CPD hasn’t just helped my communication skills. I recently set up my own freelance digital accounting firm, J’Accountancy, which involved building my own website and client portal. Now, my CPD time is spent learning website design, as well as any compliance requirements I need.

CPD proved to be a real metamorphosis for me. It’s left me feeling proud that I’ve overcome something that was once a very big problem.”

Jay’s CPD advice:

“Set up a Microsoft Word document in landscape mode, with three column headers:

  • What I want to achieve
  • When I want to achieve it by
  • How I’m going to achieve it

It’s a great way of tracking your goals and achievements.”

Gina Gardner MAAT on how AAT CPD helped her to become Xero-certified and has saved her clients millions of pounds

“CPD helped me become Xero-certified and save millions of pounds for my clients” – Gina Gardner

Gina Gardner MAAT, 23, is a corporate tax accountant for Gloucestershire-based Randall & Payne. CPD has empowered Gina’s career progression so far, leading to Xero certification and helping her clients save £15m.

Gina says: “You don’t expect to generate business chatting to a stranger on the 07:42 train to Bristol Parkway…

But a random conversation with a self-employed woman on a train led to us keeping in touch on LinkedIn, eventually resulting in her referring clients on to us at Randall & Payne.

I doubt I would have been as confident to strike up that conversation, and develop it into business, without having done CPD first and extended my knowledge beyond my normal study leave.

How CPD led to Xero certification

Aside from developing networking skills, I’ve also learned Xerothrough CPD. The cloud-based accounting platform changes every few weeks, so it’s important to keep abreast of these so I can engage with my clients.

I’m tested on Xero via multi-choice questions, which give credits. These credits count towards my Xero certification on an annual basis, and contribute to my AAT CPD record.

I have maintained my Xero-certified adviser status for 2 years. Having this knowledge has really helped me in my job, especially when explaining how to operate Xero to individual clients.

Recently, I received a LinkedIn recommendation from a client saying I had restored his faith in accountancy!

The ‘continuing’ element of CPD

Most people think CPD only involves training courses. We do attend these, but it’s a mistake to think that this is the only thing that counts towards your CPD.

So many other things can contribute. Whenever I receive a query within the corporate tax team that I need to research, I include that within my CPD, as it’s increasing my knowledge within a particular area.

I also watch webinars and read AAT magazines to keep up-to-date on relevant topics. Not many people think sitting around reading a magazine can count towards CPD, but it does!

Development in my job role

CPD has led to me picking up new work responsibilities, such as being involved in share transactions and investor relief submissions. But largely specialising in R&D.

As a Corporate Tax team, we have helped save our clients £15m in R&D savings, over the last 5 years.

Together with my studies, CPD is enabling me to progress towards an end goal of becoming a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser. Without CPD, I would not have had the growing confidence to assist my clients, as my knowledge would have been limited to previous exams – which isn’t enough.”

Gina’s advice:

Use CPD as a way of keeping track of developments within your industry, whether it’s new tax legislation or technological developments within Xero. Your knowledge will make you more employable and aid career progression. It’s definitely worth spending an hour a week on it.

“CPD helps me improve as a boss” – Farid Gasanov

Farid Gasanov MAAT, 30, is founder/CEO of London-based Q Accountants. CPD has delivered some great results for both his staff – and himself. He’s also set up an effective method of keeping track of it…

Farid says: “As a business-owner, I believe CPD is absolutely vital. When meeting clients, it’s important to know what’s going on with the accounting industry and any legislation changes. Accounting, such as VAT, is changing so much that a large chunk of knowledge you have from three years ago isn’t relevant now.

CPD enables you to refresh your knowledge and learn something new.

Encouraging CPD among your team

I’ve got a team of nine staff at Q Accountants, and I regularly send them HMRC updates on payroll changes, or links to webinars, so they can stay ahead on CPD. Each member of staff also gets an annual training allowance of £600 to attend any CPD course they want, whether it’s money-laundering, Citibank training, or improving presentation skills.

One course we always attend every year is Xerocon, which covers trends and features guests such as cyclist Chris Hoy; it’s essentially three days full of CPD activities!

How to track your CPD

But CPD is ultimately managed by the employees themselves, not the boss. So, you need good e-learning software. At Q Accountants we use project management app Trello with each member of staff receiving their own board for tracking CPD. My board consists of three columns:

  • Coming. This is a list of the events/webinars/mastercourses that I’ve signed up for.
  • Attended. When I attend events, I move the card to ‘Attended’. This information is useful in case AAT ever ask for it! After each event, you can also put your observations and takeaway points here.
  • Potential. Here I put the events I’ve heard of, jotting them down on-the-go through Trello’s mobile phone app. If it’s worth attending, I’ll put them into ‘Coming’.

These Trello boards are particularly useful when it comes to performance reviews and seeing what people have achieved over the last year, and what new skills they want to acquire.

There are always areas to improve my own CPD too. I attend the AAT tax update mastercourse once a year, which covers changes within the tax industry and is also a great chance to meet other accountants.

We have lots of startup clients at Q who go through fundraising and have complex share structures, so I’m currently working on enhancing my technical knowledge too. Accountants rarely deal with details of transactions, but the more I know about share capitals and corporate restructuring, is a big help.”

Farid’s advice:

Sometimes it’s a struggle to find time to do CPD. However, what I’ve found useful is learning on your commute. Even if you’re driving, it’s still possible to listen to audiobooks that could increase your personal development.

In summary

There are a huge number of ways you can accomplish your continuing professional development, ensuring you continue to grow and advance in your career. But even though CPD is a requirement of maintaining your AAT professional designation, don’t let it turn into a box-ticking exercise.

Follow in the footsteps of our previous AAT award winners above; identify challenges you face and potential areas for growth, and set out to make a real change. This is a fantastic opportunity to expand your communication skills, develop your staff to fill business needs, improve your networking to generate more business, and so much more.

Read more on how to make an impact with your continuing professional development;

Christian Koch is a contributor for AAT's members magazine, AT.

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