Giving Back and Making a Difference

CPAs can be found in every industry, being experts at more than numbers – and they’re great with those, too.

Every month, CPA Manitoba spotlights the diverse and dedicated professionals that prove CPA is more than a designation. 

I have no doubt that giving back has helped me reach my full potential, the skills and experiences can easily transcend into all aspects of life.

Make the most of every opportunity and leave your own mark on this world. For Joan Presto, CPA, CGA, this approach has been central to her professional and personal life. Whether it is through the fitness industry, CPA profession or community, it’s this positive mantra that has led to a wide breadth of experiences for Presto.

Currently an Associate Audit Manager at Canada Life (formerly Great-West Life), Presto has a passion for fitness and giving back to the community.  She has competed in five fitness competitions and is a certified fitness coach. While she doesn’t compete anymore, staying fit and healthy is still at the forefront. “It was tough, a different type of challenge both mentally and physically. But once I decided to take the leap, I was committed to the end goal and eager to push myself to new limits. I loved training and being on stage and I’m glad I accomplished what I did. It certainly taught me a lot about discipline and hard work,” says Presto.
Being involved in the community has also played a large role for Presto. “I have no doubt that giving back has helped me reach my full potential, the skills and experiences can easily transcend into all aspects of life,” she said.
“You can change a lot of lives by donating the skills and time you have, even if it’s only for an hour a week. Whatever you can do, it makes a difference and that changes you for the better.”
Presto has always found ways to give back to her community long before she became a CPA. In her early teen years, she volunteered at the gift shop and daycare at a local hospital. Presto was also actively involved in community and volunteer groups throughout high school and university.
After graduating from St. Boniface Diocesan High School, Presto says she was unsure exactly which career path she wanted to follow, but she was certain that she wanted to be involved in the business sector and work with people. Shortly after her second year at the University of Manitoba, an opportunity caught her eye.
“I started at Canada Life as an Enrollment Clerk. It was an entry level position, but it got my foot in the door,” said Presto. “While in the role, I looked for new opportunities to grow within the organization. I realized that if I wanted to move into other positions and expand my skills, I would need more formal training and education.”
Soon after, Presto began the journey towards her university degree and accounting designation. It was a significant undertaking but Presto was not alone in taking on the task.
“Juggling full-time work and a part-time education wasn’t easy, but I’m so thankful for the support of Canada Life throughout it all,” said Presto. “Earning that designation was always going to be a substantial investment into my career. Because of it, I was able to continue living up to the potential that I knew I could and grow my career within the company.”
Throughout her studies, Presto began to take on greater responsibilities.  After beginning as an Enrollment Clerk, she took on more advanced roles as an Accounts Payable Administrator, Mortgage Financial Management Assistant and Senior Investment Reporting & Tax Analyst. Through it all, she managed to donate time to the local and national community organizations Canada Life supported. Her perseverance and adaptability paid off when she earned her designation.
“When I received my designation in 2012 it brought everything full circle. I could fully invest everything I learned back into the company,” said Presto. “With my new credentials and abilities, I started to search for what I felt was an ideal position. I found an internal posting for the Assistant Audit Manager role and knew I needed to apply. It was time for a change and something more.”
Presto developed her skills for four years as Assistant Audit Manager. It wasn’t an easy transition and it proved to be a different type of challenge than she had worked through in the past. Undeterred, she credits the knowledge gained in the program as a key reason for that.
“Compared to my previous roles, auditing was a serious learning curve for me,” noted Presto. “I was applying the technical skills I had learned through my studies and relied on the soft skills I developed too. Internal audit is quite fascinating because you get to see the company from a much broader level. Being able to take what I knew and see how each department functions in lockstep with each other is intriguing. You can never get bored.”
With hard work and dedication, Presto became more comfortable in her role. Four years later, she was promoted to her current position as an Associate Audit Manager. In addition to being a leader, she assesses the business risks and identifies process improvements, while providing bold insights to help the company achieve its goals.
Not long after she found a new way to give back to the community. “In 2016, the then Co-Chair of our company’s United Way campaign approached me to come on as a committee member,” said Presto. “Although it was going to be considerable time commitment, I knew I had to say yes – an opportunity like that doesn’t come up everyday.”
Presto’s work on the committee was significant. It involved planning, preparation and execution of a 2-week company-wide campaign for over 3000 employees, across three major locations. 
Two years in, she became the Co-Chair of the campaign – an opportunity she just couldn’t resist. The role required a greater investment of time, work and energy. Presto notes it was worth it because of the awareness and funds it generates for United Way Winnipeg. “Seeing something that you’ve helped plan for almost a year unfold in two weeks is surreal,” recalled Presto. “It’s was an amazing campaign and I’m very thankful for the experience and opportunity.”

Joan Presto with Volunteers

Caption: Presto (front left) with some of the 2018 United Way Committee

Presto notes that her experience within the company has helped her better understand her role both at Canada Life and in the CPA profession.

“I’m committed to assisting the new generation of CPAs and business professionals, while continuing to give back to the community” said Presto. “I can do that here at Canada Life. I’m already a CPA mentor and financial literacy volunteer.  And I’ll continue to be involved in the community here through the company’s United Way GenNext chapter. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.  Having that support system has been key and the ability to make an impact in another person’s life makes it totally worth it.”

For anyone thinking about pursuing the CPA designation, Presto says “Just do it! The benefits and rewards are worth it. The possibilities are endless with a CPA designation.”