Māori, including through iwi, are becoming a larger and more successful part of the economy. How is the Māori investment strategy and horizon different from others?
Rēnata Blair: A key foundation of the Māori economy is that investments are very long-term. Iwi work on 50- to 500-year horizons. They’re looking for assets to be held for future generations.
It’s also true that not all iwi are the same. Their investments differ depending on the history, values and geography of each iwi.
Ngāti Whātua are the original landlords of Auckland and they are very comfortable investing in commercial and residential property. They bring a very long-term horizon to their acquisition and ownership of land.
Iwi like Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Porou and Ngāi Tahu invest more in the primary sector – farming, forestry and seafood – because that's consistent with their history. Their long-term perspective means they focus on sustainability and the quality of the environment so the resource is maintained for future generations.
Keep in mind that Treaty settlements with the Crown have only been taking place for about 20 years. So Māori accumulation of assets through those means is relatively new. They don’t want to let go of those assets quickly, nor expose them to a lot of risk. It also means that we’re only at the very beginning of seeing the impact of the Māori economy.
Are there other sectors that you think Māori are likely to start investing in more?
Rēnata Blair: Yes. Māori are already important investors in central North Island geothermal energy and I think you’ll see more Māori involvement in renewable energy – wind turbines in Taranaki, for example, and solar energy in Northland.
Māori will also move more into the health sector. Māori investment in health will play a big role as the Māori Health Authority comes into being and services are devolved.
There’s a lot to be gained from building and delivering health services from a Māori perspective, whether you’re talking about public health, primary health care or mental health. Māori have always cared for their own people, and a lot of iwi invest in care for their newborns and elder care. Some are offering universal health-insurance coverage.
Has their long-term perspective helped iwi organisations through the global financial crisis and the covid disruptions?
Rēnata Blair: Māori have been through a number of crises over the last 200 years and they have endured them. During covid, those that were exposed to tourism have felt the pinch. But the iwi in tourism, like the iwi in Rotorua, have a long-term horizon. So I believe they will endure crises such as covid.
Part of the secret of Māori resilience is that in general their businesses are low-geared. They’re not sailing close to the wind, so when there is a shock they have more headroom than average. They can borrow or just ride it out.
Māori are more patient than the average investor, and their focus on employing their people means they’re unlikely to cut and run in the face of short-term problems.
Iwi businesses have stakeholders who are quite different from an individual who puts money into shares or an investment fund. How do the values and expectations of their stakeholders affect how iwi investments are made and managed?
Rēnata Blair: Dividends are usually in the form of social services and support – health care services, educational scholarships, sports grants, sustaining te reo Māori and so on.
Dividends are not usually paid out in cash; it’s a social dividend by way of further investment in services and the community. This is about longevity – sustaining the core things that make you Māori.
Are there entities or individuals who should be thinking more about investing alongside Māori as partners?
Rēnata Blair: If you can partner with Māori and understand their values and their investment principles, you will have a long-term relationship. They will stick with you.
Māori look at people, planet and profit – usually in that order. “Are you good people to do business with? Do your values match ours?”
It's hard to get in the door, but once you're part of the whānau, Māori are very loyal. They expect you to be there in the long-term, too, because they're looking four or more generations ahead.
New Zealand companies that want to partner with Māori need to have that as part of their DNA as well. This is a perspective that is likely to protect the environment and create a better, healthier country in the long-term.
Do banks need to develop new products to contribute to Māori goals?
Rēnata Blair: Definitely. A key focus for us at the BNZ is understanding how collectively owned Māori land works, as this ties in with Māori being at the sharp end of the housing crisis. From a risk perspective, all banks have had difficulty with Māori land. We need to work with iwi on how we view the securitisation of Māori land with a view to helping to solve the housing crisis.
About 70% to 80% of the Māori economy is in the SME space – mums and dads working in their businesses every single day. Central government and financial institutions can do more to unlock that side of the economy, especially to support their exporting potential.
As with larger entities like iwi, if a small business identifies as Māori and lives out those values, then a bank has to provide people that are equipped to contribute to that world.
How far along is the BNZ in the journey of developing that capability?
Rēnata Blair: We’re focused on earning the right to do business with Māori. We are adopting the long-term view. We are increasing our ability to operate on the marae or at a hui. Proving these things allows us to develop products and services that fit Māori needs.
We have a way to go, but we are committed. We are resourcing our business units to increase their scope and ability to support the Māori economy. We’re supporting our people to be comfortable in marae settings and are showing staff that we are committed to this.
Sometimes people tread a little bit lightly from fear of embarrassment or of offending someone. But I say to them, “Pai tū pai hinga. Give it a go. It doesn't matter if you fall. Get up and go again.”
Looking ahead 50 years or 500 years, how will Māori values and perspectives have influenced our society? What do you hope for?
Rēnata Blair: I hope that biculturalism in New Zealand is fully realised, that we have a true sense of ourselves as envisioned in the Treaty of Waitangi.
In 50 years’ time, Māori will be a greater share of the population because we are a young demographic that is growing. Today’s young leaders will have taken their place on the board tables and executive teams.
There are still not enough of us involved there yet. My drive is for the next ones coming through – the young ones at the bank who are looking at finance and banking as a career.
I hope by then BNZ will have earned the right to stand alongside iwi and create lasting economic and social legacies.
Creating financial profit to put in your next quarterly report is the easy part. My great hope is that we will create work that has legacy. I want us to be building things that are going to be here forever.
Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of Rēnata Blair and do not necessarily represent the views of BNZ, or its related entities.
This article is solely for information purposes and is not intended to be financial advice. If you need help, please contact BNZ or your financial adviser. Neither BNZ nor any person involved in this article accepts any liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance on, all or any part of this article.