Gemma Heard announced as winner of AAT’s Past Presidents’ Award 2023

aat comment

The award is presented by the outgoing President to a member who has made an exceptional contribution, or brought credit, to AAT by their service or example.

Gemma Heard, founder of GEM Accountancy and GEM Consultancy UK in Cornwall, has been named as winner of the Past Presidents’ Award for 2023. The award recognised her innovation in keeping the accountancy profession relevant, her work in driving up professional standards and her contribution to helping businesses be robust and responsible.

Years of experience

Through her established accountancy practice in Cornwall, Gemma has worked to support local business owners, coach them on how to grow their business, advised them during the pandemic, and offered innovative new accountancy products and services. Having lived and worked in the UK, Australia and Spain, Gemma has 20 years’ accountancy experience and is helping businesses with strategy to help them cope with change and challenge in their business and personal lives.

“I love coaching and people, and I love numbers, so combining these two aspects in my job are perfect for me,” she says.

Gemma showed an early aptitude for coaching, having begun teaching at the age of 15 when she became a black belt and British champion in Tae Kwon Do in just two years and began to take her own classes. She says martial arts gave her resilience, a strong work ethic, personal integrity and a determination which has carried her through professional and personal challenges.

“The discipline and the ethics that I learned in martial arts from a young age and the self-control and resilience I was taught are all valuable skills which transfer into business,” she says.

Gemma’s approach

Gemma supports and equips small business owners in the UK through her Consultancy Practice. She also runs a Bossing Business series to help people identify their professional business goals. She is deeply committed to a personal approach to client management and believes that being approachable and relatable and establishing trust with clients helps them to achieve the best results.

“It is really important to understand how people’s personal circumstances have a bearing on how their business is performing,” she says.

 “The more I worked with owner-managers, the more it became clear to me that whatever was going on outside of their business was impacting the numbers that I was seeing. Being able to discuss this with clients has built a relationship of trust and integrity.”

She also set up the Female Entrepreneurs Network Cornwall group which she was actively involved in before she had to leave to spend more time caring for her father, who has dementia.

How AAT has helped in Gemma’s journey

Like many AAT students, Gemma found studying for the qualification “life-changing” and enjoyable, although hard work. She had been working for a photography firm and wanted to get a qualification to back up her experience. She worked full time, studying AAT at night school.

After qualifying, she joined a chartered practice, where her boss explained that she had got the job because of her AAT qualification.

“The commitment to high standards promoted by AAT gave me the professional recognition and the confidence to succeed,” she says.

Having been born in Australia but growing up in England through her teenage years, Gemma was keen to return to the country of her birth.

She lived in Australia for seven years. Whilst the AAT qualification is not currently formally recognised in Australia, her competency and professionalism immediately got her noticed by her new employer.

“I was working for a company that owned shopping centres and the headquarters was in Sydney and from the beginning I made a big impact thanks to my AAT training,” she says. “I was getting great feedback from head office and I realised that AAT was really making a big difference to my career. In less than two years from being qualified, I was being given a lot of responsibility, I was promoted, and I doubled my salary.”

Professional standards

Gemma returned to the UK in 2018 and set up her own business, just as Covid hit the UK. As a result, she spent a lot of time helping businesses cope with the challenges that came with lockdown. She is dedicated to maintaining professional standards in the accounting profession and puts great emphasis on ensuring clients receive the best service.

“I am consistently talking about the best in class method for clients, helping empower and elevate them to be the best at what they do in financial terms,” she says. “Professionalism is one of my core values. I am also dedicated to building responsible businesses. The majority of people want to run their business in a compliant way and I can help them by removing the fear and enabling them to put their best foot forward in their business.”

Gemma was elected to AAT member status in October 2009, and was granted Licensed Member status in August 2019. She is a member of the Cornwall branch and is active in networking and helping small businesses around the St Ives area where she lives.

Enhancing AAT’s prestige

In March this year, Gemma was shortlisted from 35,000 businesses in the FSB Federation of Small Business Southwest Awards.

“My accountancy practice was recognised for delivering excellence and keeping our profession relevant by building engaging communities both on and offline,” she says. She shares educational resources for business owners on how to remain compliant and successful.

Gemma encourages others to get into accountancy, promoting AAT as the best route. She believes in collaboration and is currently mentoring a newly qualified AAT bookkeeping member in how to build her business locally.

“It has been an amazing journey with AAT,” she says. “I started in a little seaside town in Cornwall doing studies at night school and only a few years later I was on the other side of the planet, putting those skills into practice.

“AAT has been with me through my whole career as an accountant, and the qualification has been genuinely life changing and given me so many opportunities. I am proud to be part of AAT and winning this award is the pinnacle of my career.”

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

Related articles