Learning the power of finance — one management accountant’s path

An accounting leader explains her early career switch and why she believes in the “power of finance” in this podcast episode with transcript.

Grace Baxter, ACMA, CGMA, initially thought she would pursue a career in physics. But she's happy with the switch she made to accounting, where she became CIMA qualified and later landed a role at the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Baxter is now head of management reporting for DEFRA, and she also serves on a CIMA regional advisory group, service that helps her gain perspective from other finance professionals.

Baxter shared advice to aspiring accountants about perseverance and trying different roles in this episode of the FM podcast.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • An overview of Baxter's path from a physics degree to her role at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • Baxter's thought on the influence of finance on day-to-day business decisions.
  • The value Baxter has found in both CIMA qualification and the CGMA designation.
  • The part of Baxter's early training about which she said, "I wanted to cry."
  • Baxter's advice to aspiring finance professionals about perseverance.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:


— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Grace Baxter: It seems really hard when you first start your CIMA training. Just persevere through it. It will all be worth it in the end.

Amato: That's the voice of management accountant Grace Baxter, who is the head of management reporting at the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Hear more from Baxter in just a bit.

Welcome to the FM podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. Our guest today is Grace Baxter, and I'm going to have Grace introduce herself, so Grace welcome to the FM podcast.

Baxter: Thank you. I'm Grace. I'm a Chartered Global Management Accountant, and I work at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where I'm the head of management reporting. I also sit on the [CIMA] UK and Ireland regional engagement group.

Amato: Great. Could you tell me first I guess about why you chose to become a management accountant?

Baxter: I actually did a physics degree, so I didn't start out with accountancy as my intention, but I was thinking about what to do in my career going forward, and finance really sparked my interest a little bit. So I started applying for some internships, then I got an internship at the head office in Leeds and that was great.

It really shows me the power of finance, the importance of finance and how we really influence business decisions on a day-to-day basis. And then my love for finance began, so at that point I decided to go into finance as a career. It's amazing. I love being an accountant. I love working finance, and there's so many different ways you can get into finance roles now as well, so you don't need a university degree. We have some great apprenticeship programs at work, for example. I'm really glad that I made that switch from physics into finance.

Amato: How would you say the CGMA designation has been a benefit for you in your career and how also could it benefit your career going forward?

Baxter: I learned so much during my CIMA studies — so much. I think CIMA teaches you how to apply finance. They're not just how to crunch the numbers, actually how to use them, how to influence business decisions right there in practice. It was great.

I think CIMA's given me the confidence and knowledge to apply what I've learned to day-to-day work as well. You think you know something, but you can always fall back on what you learn when you're doing your CIMA studies. Bring that up, and you know that you're doing the right thing. There's also the support network that comes alongside CIMA, which is really great.

Amato: Now another aspect I wanted to ask you about is that you've served as a CIMA volunteer, so tell me some of the things that you've done in that role.

Baxter: I sit on the regional engagement group for UK and Ireland, which is super interesting. We get together once a quarter at least, and we discuss emerging issues. It's really interesting to hear from other members in the group, who sit and work in different industries, about how issues are impacting them and how they're responding in their industries. I feel like I learn a lot from the group and definitely try and give back as much as I do learn. We also feed back on CIMA's plans and bring perspectives from different industries when we're feeding back on them. I've also attended face-to-face networking events for CIMA, which I find really helpful and really enjoyable. It's a chance to meet different people from different organisations and industries, and it's really good to have a chat and just learn from each other.

Amato: Is there one thing that you can say you've taken away from some of this volunteering in these regional groups that you've learned and been able to apply to your role?

Baxter: Definitely. Some of the ideas that people have in response to the emerging issues that we're all going through are really interesting, so definitely learn a lot from each other. And it's interesting in another way that there's a lot of similarities, though we work in completely different industries.

We've got people that do management accounting, the science, really big companies. I work in a government department, so all very different industries, but actually a lot of different issues impact us all in a very similar way as well. The learning how we can respond to those issues is really helpful and how other people are addressing them.

Amato: As a CIMA member, one of the things that you have the ability to do is to vote on initiatives in person or online at the Annual General Meeting, the next one of which is coming up in June. One, what do you look forward to about that meeting, and what to you is the value of being able to have a voice in terms of that vote?

Baxter: It's very great to go to the meeting, learn about the plans for CIMA, but what I really value is being able to have a say, being able to have a say and help shape the future of CIMA.

Amato: Do you generally attend that meeting in person or has it been online more recently?

Baxter: Virtually over the last couple of years.

Amato: Grace, it's been great to learn a little bit more about you and some of the things you're doing through CIMA and also the value you're finding in the CGMA designation. As a closing thought, what advice would you give to accounting candidates out there?

Baxter: It seems really hard when you first start your CIMA training. I remember when I first started to learn T-accounts and I wanted to cry. They were so hard and I couldn't understand them. I remember thinking, "Physics degree – I thought that was hard. How are T-accounts harder?" but actually I persevered, tried really hard at them, and then it all clicked in. It all made sense, all clicked in my head, and I love T-accounts now, although I don't get time to do them very often anymore.

So just persevere through it. It will all be worth it in the end. And probably to try different roles as well. I've been really lucky through my career that I've been able to try a variety of different roles across the civil service. I've learned so much from all of them, and so I really suggest that you try that, too. So, try different roles, show the people, get a mentor and just enjoy. Enjoy working in finance, enjoy working with CIMA.

Amato: I think that's a great way to end. Things are clicking for you it sounds like. So, Grace, thank you very much for being on the podcast.

Baxter: Thank you very much.