Growing up on a farm in country Australia, Gemma Preston had never really planned to become an accountant. However, as a child, she would beg her father to let her help with the farm bookkeeping, which might have been a clue to where she would end up.
“The farm seemed like it was always in a continuous drought. So, the idea of careful management of your finances and the importance of saving for a “rainy day” was not lost on me sorry - wrong expression for a drought!” Gemma says. “This, in hindsight, is fitting in a way as now I'm helping countries around the world better manage their own budgets, improve the efficiency of their spending and ensure they are well placed to deal with those unexpected ‘rainy days’.”
No longer just managing the finances of the family farm, Gemma’s enthusiasm for working with numbers propelled her into a global career and into her current role as a public financial management expert at the International Monetary Fund.
Based in Washington D.C., Gemma advises governments on how to prudently and transparently manage their finances, helping people on an international scale. This gives her the opportunity to really make a difference and help shape decisions governments are making.
“I’m providing advice to governments on how to transparently manage their budgets, ensure they are putting aside money for spending on their priorities – on things that are important like health care and education Gemma says. “There are many ways that accountants can really contribute at an international level.”
Gemma’s background of providing strategic financial management advice to executive boards includes time with the Australian Treasury and the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Gemma went on to lead a team critical to the delivery of the Australian federal budget over a number of years, building on her fiscal management skills. Although the work can be challenging, it’s always exciting and reminiscent of the work she had undertaken towards her CA designation.
Gemma’s passion for good public financial management led her to the International Monetary Fund, where she’s since travelled to numerous countries around the world and worked on the ground with governments and key decision makers to help address their concerns.
“I joined in a number of missions with the Fiscal Affairs Department of the International Monetary Fund,” Gemma says. “I've travelled to India, Indonesia, Malawi, and Mozambique to help governments improve their capacity to manage their fiscal resources and budgets in a responsible and sustainable way.”
Her work is topical, and she finds she is always evolving her skill set to address the challenges of the current day – having most recently worked with Pacific Island Countries on how to ‘Unlock Access to Climate Finance’ to help them adapt to significant climate challenges. Gemma also recently examined Gender Budgeting practices in G20 Countries, a discipline that is critically important to understanding how government decisions impact men and women differently and have significant implications for gender equality.
“Having a CA skillset helps you bring different insights and perspective to the roles that you do.”
Gemma credits her CA studies and time working at the Big Four accounting firms in Australia as setting a solid foundation for her diverse career. She has found that her CA designation has opened doors to opportunities she had not imagined.
“Having that CA skillset helps you bring different insights and perspectives to the roles that you do,” Gemma says. “It helps you to move around and collect insights into the way that things are done in different places, and you can apply them to different opportunities and experiences that you didn't think were possible.”
Her advice to other young professionals and aspiring CAs: broaden your skills and approach and take opportunities outside of your comfort zone.
“You have the ability to shape your career and your career path.” Gemma says. “There are many ways that accountants can really contribute to the public good at an international level.”
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