27 March 2020: Coronavirus Update. The situation is fast moving and we are continuing to monitor the global situation and its impact on our members, staff, exam candidates, students and the profession. More information for Members and Students in My CIMA.

Graham Ashton

Finance Manager, Corporate Finance, Westminster City Council

"CIMA, unlike the other accountancy routes, offers a lot more in all round business skills."

Tell us about your career pathway from when you started to work in finance to your current role.
My first full time out role out of university was as an administration officer at the Serious Fraud Office. At the time the jobs market was not amiable for new graduates. A friend then recommended a maternity cover position as Finance Manager at the National Hospital Development Foundation (now known as the National Brain Appeal), the charity for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (part of UCLH). This was my first finance role. When it ended I took up a position with the City of London Corporation. It is here I started my CIMA studies. After qualifying I left to join Hackney Council briefly as a Project Accountant and now at Westminster City Council as a Finance Manager. 

Why did you choose to study CIMA?
CIMA, unlike the other accountancy routes, offers a lot more in all round business skills. During my time in finance, I have also been the departmental head of health and safety. Wherever I work, CIMA’s skills will lend themselves to the role.

What are the benefits of being a CGMA to your role today?
My role is so varied that being a CGMA allows me to cope with all eventualities. 
One of my first major projects in my current position was to manage a team in completing an audit of a 2,800 strong payroll. I had never worked on payroll nor audit before, however I wasn’t fazed as CIMA provides the foundations to handle any challenge presented.

Can you describe a specific instance you have successfully completed/major challenge you have overcome by using CGMA skills? 
As a business partner in the Highways and Transportation department of a local authority, I dealt with many stakeholders at varying levels of superiority both within and without the organisation. 
Each had their own priorities that often caused conflict. Understanding how to manage each, their requirements for both information and input, allowed me to manage negotiations between them. 
Using powers of influence and persuasion learnt through being a CGMA, I was able to offer solutions to project problems concerning time, cost and quality. 

What energizes or ignites you? What are your true passions?
I love seeing the positive outcomes from a major project. As well as the physical, there are many intangible inputs into a significant piece of work. These aren’t always appreciated but are understood and acknowledged by colleagues.
Recently the Westminster Finance department were able to complete a full set of accounts to be audited a mere nine days after the end of the financial year. This was unheard of previously. The challenge was made even more difficult given we were using a newly established ERP system and a significant number of the departmental staff had been in post for less than a year! It took many, many hours of input from all finance colleagues with a fair few late nights but in the end we created and delivered something we could all be proud of. On a personal level, I read avidly, follow my team West Ham and enjoy playing and watching poker (you’d be surprised how CIMA skills can help here too)!

What does the future hold for you?  
The future is a mystery at this point, and frankly that’s great. I’m always pushing to complete new challenges and gain new experiences. This could mean a life-long career in local government up to Section 151 Officer (Local Government’s top finance officer) or maybe a change of sector into industry. Either way, I’ll be using my CGMA skills to help me get there.

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