In order to maintain their licence, external accountants must fulfil the continuing education requirement. If they fail to meet this requirement, their licence may be withdrawn.
Content of the continuing education requirement
The purpose of the continuing education requirement is to ensure that external accountants at all times stay abreast of changes in the profession relative to the business in which they are engaged. It should therefore be regarded as a minimum requirement.
The phrase at all times entails a requirement on an annual basis, i.e. at each year-end, to submit, upon request, proof of completion of continuing education programmes for the three preceding years. Fulfilment of this requirement is measured in hours. Section 4-1, first subsection, of the regulations reads as follows:
"An authorised accountant shall at all times be able to submit proof of completion at least 77 continuing education hours over the course of the three preceding calendar years. The continuing education shall at least include:
- 21 hours of financial accounting, of which at least 7 hours on the rules and regulations governing bookkeeping
- 21 hours of tax law/excise duty law
- 14 hours in topics from the rules and regulations governing external accountants and good accounting practices
- 7 hours of jurisprudence."
The remaining 14 hours may comprise topics mentioned in nos. 1 to 4, or compulsory topics forming part of the syllabus for the bachelor's degree programme in economics and business administration adopted by the National Council for Economic Administrative Education (NRØA).
A teaching hour normally lasts at least 45 minutes.
The syllabus for the bachelor's degree programme in economics and business administration in English version is available at the website of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions:
How to fulfil the statutory continuing education requirement
An external accountant may meet the requirement by:
- attending a continuing education programme organised by professional organisers,
- passing an examination at a university or university college where one credit (in the Norwegian system) corresponds to four continuing education hours. The same applies where an external accountant can submit proof of having attended at least 75 per cent of the teaching programme leading to such an examination.
Lecturing at education programmes or teaching subjects as mentioned in no. 4 above carries the same weight as attending education programmes.
The continuing education programmes must be organised by professional organisers such as the Norwegian Association of Authorised Accountants (NARF), Økonomiforbundet or the Norwegian Institute of Public Accountants. Major audit firms and accounting firms which normally organise education programmes in the market will also be deemed to be professional organisers.
Where education programmes organised by other entities (for example small accounting firms) are qualitatively on the same level as those organised by professional education programme providers in the open market, Finanstilsynet has no objection to such education programmes being counted towards fulfilment of the minimum continuing education requirement.
Finanstilsynet may upon application grant dispensation from the continuing education requirement in special cases. Dispensation is subject to stringent provisos and is only granted in extraordinary circumstances. The deadline for compliance will normally be extended where serious illness has prevented an external accountant from completing a continuing education programme.
According to section 4-1, last subsection, of the regulations, the deadline for completion of continuing education is automatically extended if a parent takes maternity/paternity leave extending beyond six months. This rule is explained in greater detail below.
Submitting proof of compliance with the continuing education requirement
An external accountant should not submit such proof to Finanstilsynet for each three-year period. He/she should instead obtain and retain proof of compliance with the continuing education requirement. Proof should, in addition to a certificate of education programme attendance or the equivalent, comprise an assembled list of education programmes attended in chronological order. The list should include programme dates, programme organisers, number of hours attended and subject areas.
Finanstilsynet expects external accountants to have the insight needed to assess the education programmes' content relative to the topics listed in section 4-1, last subsection, of the regulations. Finanstilsynet advises that it will review an external accountant's own assessment of the content of education programmes only where the assessment clearly rests on poor judgement.
An external accountant must submit the above documentary proof when asked to do so by Finanstilsynet.
Proof of compliance with the continuing education requirement must be retained for at least six years. The period for retention also applies to external accountants that were subject to the earlier requirement for replenishment training of 16 days' duration.
Postponement of continuing education in connection with maternity/paternity leave
An external accountant that has been on maternity/paternity leave beyond six months is granted one year's extension of the deadline for continuing education to be completed; see section 4-1, sixth subsection, first sentence, of the Accounting Regulations. There is no need to apply for an extension – it is automatic.
This statutory extension applies only where the individual has taken six months' maternity/paternity leave during the last 12 months. In other words the extension rule does not apply if the leave is taken over a period so long that it makes up less than six months of a period of one year. Overall maternity/paternity leave is stipulated at six months. The six months can be taken over a longer period, but not longer than 12 months. In other words, deadline extension is not available to external accountants who are occupationally active for more than 50 per cent of their overall maternity/paternity leave.
More on the effect of the deadline extension rule
The first year-end after at least six months' leave has been taken is not included when checking compliance with the continuing education requirement. The rationale for this is that pregnancy and adoption are difficult to plan, with the result that the external accountant may at the end of the period of leave be in a situation in which she/he needs to catch up on part of the minimum continuing education requirement.
At the next year-end the continuing education requirement must be met on a four-year retrospective basis. In other words, the year in which parental leave of at least six months was taken is disregarded.
The same applies to forthcoming year-ends until the year in which leave was taken no longer counts for compliance purposes; i.e. the continuing education requirement of at least 77 hours over the course of the last three years must have been met by the fourth year-end after at least six months' leave was taken.
If new periods of maternity/paternity leave of at least six months are taken in the period, the deadline extension rule will apply right until the final year of leave no longer counts; i.e. the continuing education requirement of at least 77 hours over the course of the last three years must have been met by the fourth year-end after the year in which at least six months' leave was taken.