If you ask Andrea Cope if she has anything cooking, she literally might be. The 2023-24 chair of the CalCPA Education Foundation has a degree from the California Culinary Academy and worked at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel after 15 years in the CPA profession, and ran her own catering business for a couple of years while getting back into public accounting.
Cope, a retired partner—Family Office for BPM LLP since 2022, has cooked up success as a CPA. Prior to joining BPM in 1998, she worked for various accounting firms, a business management firm and was assistant controller for the Houston Symphony.
An active member with CalCPA, Cope served as deputy executive officer for CalCPA (2018-19) and has served on various leadership positions with the organization, including San Francisco Chapter board member and president, CalCPA board member, CalCPA chair, PAC chair and a member of various conference planning committees.
Q: What do you find the most rewarding about the CPA profession?
A: The people and the opportunity to pivot in areas of expertise. I’ve met and worked with so many wonderful people during my career—staff, colleagues, clients and other professionals. It’s been fun being part of the team that surrounded our clients. The collaborative thinking and problem solving needed to help clients reach both their financial and personal goals. I adored all my staff over the years and wanted to do what I could to help them became the professional they strived to become.
As an active member of CalCPA, I’ve developed wonderful relationships with other CPAs up and down the state, across the country and in far-off places. Being a CPA has afforded me the opportunity to change direction in my area of expertise.
I’ve focused on the hospitality industry for years and then pivoted to the real estate industry. I was working with clients doing client accounting services before it was a popular service line. I’ve led a group of professionals working in the family office space. I couldn’t have been proficient in any of these areas without continuous learning. I’ve taken countless courses through the Education Foundation to upskill. I’ve been on many conference planning committees to help our members and participants stay on top of their industry expertise. I realized early on that I needed to be a continuous learner so I could address my clients’ concerns and be able to collaborate with my colleagues.
Q: What advice do you have for younger professional or those thinking of entering the CPA profession?
A: Just do it! The profession offers so many opportunities from auditing, tax, client accounting services, forensics, litigation support, data analytics, industry specialties and more. You can work in public accounting, in industry, for a nonprofit organization or government. I tell students that getting your accounting degree and becoming a CPA will pretty much guarantee you will have a job for as long as you want one. I don’t think there are many professions that can offer as many opportunities as being a CPA has to offer.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on your path to becoming a CPA and how did you overcome them?
A: The CPA Exam just about did me in! I took the exam during a time where it was offered two times a year, May and November. We took it in large convention halls with hundreds of other exam takers. Pretty intimating. I passed three of the four parts, but couldn’t get a passing score on FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting). I was down to the last opportunity to pass the exam without losing my conditional credits. It was do or die time. I told my friends I’d see them in six months. I signed up for Becker Review, drove from Santa Barbara to Van Nuys every Saturday and Sunday for four to five months and studied like crazy. It was a joyous day when the envelope arrived in the mail with that passing grade!
Q: What attracted you to CalCPA and then CalCPA leadership?
A: Paul Southgate, a partner at Windes, invited me to my first CalCPA event in Long Beach back in the 1980s. As a brand-new staff member, you just said yes to partner invites. I enjoyed being introduced to other CalCPA members at the event and thought this would be a great organization to get to know.
Right after I joined BPM, one of the firm’s partners, Bill Schulte, was retiring and was a member of the San Francisco Chapter board. He asked if I would be interested in coming onto the board, and I said absolutely. Being a competitive person, I knew my goal was to be president of the chapter.
Once in that position, I was on Council and (then-CalCPA CEO) Loretta Doon tapped me on my shoulder—quite literally—and suggested I apply for a CalCPA Board position. The rest is history. It’s really been those personal relationships, someone saying, “Hey come with me to this CalCPA meeting” or “We think you have leadership potential,” that spurred my interest in CalCPA and has resulted in my various leadership positions.
Q: Who inspired you to become a CPA?
A: My dad probably was my biggest inspiration as he was paying my college tuition and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to support myself with an animal science degree. I was struggling with my grades (OK, I was having too much fun and not studying enough!) and my dad suggested I become a CPA. His best friend, Pete Fedderson, had a CPA firm in Encino and we talked for a long time about the benefits of being a CPA.
The mom of one of my best friends from high school, Gina Levy, was a CPA. Nella Ebert talked to both of us about being a CPA while raising a family. Nella had a home office before home offices were a thing. She was totally involved with her family and had a thriving practice. I made the decision to change my major to accounting and I’m so glad I did. Gina also became a CPA. I’m thankful that these folks took the time to let me know what an amazing career being a CPA could be.
Q: What was your first accounting job and how did you progress from there?
A: My first job in the accounting profession was for an independent bookkeeper in Van Nuys, Nora Barrett. This was in 1979 just before desktop computers came on the scene so everything was done manually. She was the bookkeeper for the restaurant at the Griffith Park Golf Course.
I remember handwriting checks, writing out deposit slips and entering all this information onto multicolumn green binder sheets. Once all the transitions were written on the pages, I had to run an adding machine tape of all the balances—and I just prayed my total came to zero. I got really fast on the adding machine!
My next job while in college was for Goodell & Co. in Sacramento. We had to keypunch all the transactions onto a yellow tape and send it off for processing. The processing company would send back the financials and we’d have to review for any errors, then send back a tape with any corrections. Fortunately, once I graduated and started at Windes, desktop computers were starting to be used more regularly.
I remember the mainframe computer was housed in a huge glassed-in computer room, raised off the floor about 12 inches and fully air conditioned. Only the IT folks were allowed into that room. We started using accounting programs that made preparation of financials statements so much easier. It took the tax preparation technology a bit more time to catch up. Remember Computax? I’m thrilled the technology has evolved to cloud based so we can work anywhere, at any time.
Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the profession?
A: We are focusing a lot of our attention on the pipeline. We have a dip in accounting graduates due to demographics and interest. CPAs and accountants don’t have thrilling drama shows like doctors and lawyers that we’ve watched since we were little kids. We still face the stereotype of being boring and sitting in a back office somewhere doing math all day long.
As a profession, we need to dispel those stereotypes by getting into high schools and elementary schools highlighting the opportunities being a CPA can offer. If each of us took an interest in one young person and mentored them through the career decision making process and beyond, we’d have 45,000 new CPAs in California over the next few years.
The other issue I see is how do we encourage our mid-career professionals to upskill their knowledge, so they have the skill set to meet their clients’ demands. There is so much new technology, exciting practice areas, new accounting pronouncements and tax regulations that it can be overwhelming to learn and to embrace something new while managing your practice and family life. I’m excited about some of the new Education Foundation offerings that can be accessed anywhere, at any time. We are investing heavily in new courses that can help our members and other financial professionals meet the demand for these new skill sets.
Q: What motivates you to do what you do?
A: I really like helping people and I love a sense of order. Give me a messy set of books and I’ll get it straightened out and put new processes and procedures in place so it’s easier to do in the future. I think getting rid of the clutter and streamlining processes helps everyone think better, which can lead to better decisions making processes. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you must stop doing so you can let the new and improved take hold.
The Education Foundation is going through that process with our course offerings. We really want to create “Super Fans” of everyone who interacts with CalCPA and the Education Foundation.
Our goal is to create first-in-class participation and engagement opportunities, while creating the highest level of consistency and value in all aspects of the member experience.
I want our members and customers to want to go to the next conference, spread the word about an awesome webcast they attended and get the on-demand education they need to solve a client’s problem. Lofty goals, but we are laser focused on getting there.
I’m thrilled to be chair of the Education Foundation so I can help our members and customers be what they strive to be.