New Zealand businesses were much better prepared for covid-19 than they were going into the global financial crisis (GFC), one of NZ’s major banks has found.

“New Zealand business learned important lessons from the GFC. On the whole, businesses strengthened balance sheets which provided greater financial flexibility when the covid crisis hit,” says BNZ chief customer officer, partnership banking, Paul Carter.

Carter has been impressed with the way NZ businesses have adjusted to the challenges thrown at them. “Covid has reminded us how unpredictable life can be, and it’ll keep throwing curve balls. It is how we respond that matters.”

Carter says that resilience encompasses flexibility, an ability to adjust, and a desire to keep learning. “These have application in business and in other parts of our lives, including as parents strengthening the resilience of our children. For me, it takes a mindset that change is a reality, and that to a large extent I can do something about it.

“I think businesses in NZ have overwhelmingly been in that camp,” Carter says. And they’ve managed through their challenges with two sources of support.

The government stepped in fast and helped businesses pay staff through the covid wage subsidy, and by introducing the Business Finance Scheme, which enabled BNZ to lend $1.5 billion quickly to support growth and combat the pandemic’s impacts.

The scheme supports the provision of loans to viable businesses. It encourages banks, and other authorised lenders, to provide loans where the government takes on up to 80% of the loan’s default risk. 

New ways of connecting and communicating have also helped businesses both survive and become more successful. “Through technology we’ve been more connected than ever. Connection opens up another way to build resilience. We’re not in this alone. We're in this together.”

Carter reflects on new ways of communicating forced by lockdowns that have changed the way he communicates outside lockdowns. “Overnight we went into a world where we were running a bank from living rooms, kitchens and garages. We did it with Teams, Skype and Zoom. We saw all parts of people's lives. We were introduced to family members, flatmates and pets. It allowed us to communicate and connect in a different way.

“At BNZ, we’ve embraced new ways of working. We learned 80% of our people felt more connected, although a significant minority felt less connected. It’s not one size fits all.”

Carter says he has continued to use new ways of working and communicating that he began using under lockdown.

“The way I used to communicate to our 2500 frontline bankers was via one-way channels. These days, I now talk to multiple teams a month, from Kaitaia to Invercargill, using two-way video communication.”

Businesses have also needed to adapt rapidly to a changing environment.   

“There’s a misconception,” says Carter, “that innovation comes from having more money, more time. But our observation is quite the contrary — that the source of innovation comes from constraints. It was when businesses faced seemingly insurmountable challenge and unreasonable time deadlines that they were their most creative. Necessity is truly the mother of invention."

There is something very Kiwi about that, says Carter. “If you accept innovation comes from constraints, and a mindset of resilience, who else would have figured out using cyclists as grinders in the America’s Cup? New Zealand is a small island nation on the far side of the earth. So let’s embrace our constraints and leverage our diverse workforce to build a more innovative and productive economy.”

Flexibility is not just important for companies facing changing circumstances. Good banking, says Carter, is understanding that every business will be different and needs a flexible approach. 

“The key to good banking is to understand and listen to what is important to our customers. We have solutions for businesses that are ambitious and want to grow profitably and sustainability. But business owners all have different objectives.

“Part of the bank’s role is to sometimes say no,” he says. "We need to explain that more debt is not always what’s needed — the answer may instead be around better planning and forecasting.

"We’ve invested heavily in our My Business Live* platform, which has all kinds of templates and tools for all businesses, not just our own customers, with a range of needs from business planning to forecasting.

“Even though businesses are being agile and adjusting to changing circumstances, it is still so important to have a plan. Having a base plan allows businesses to adjust deliberately”.  

Case studies: Good George and NZ Hothouse

When brewhouse Good George was faced with losing its customers due to NZ’s first lockdowns, it pivoted within 24 hours to using its equipment to make hand sanitiser. The company also quickly adjusted to social distancing, erecting glasshouses outside its Auckland restaurant in Wynyard quarter. “They had 800,000 social media likes. It was great for the brand and enabled them to stand out from the crowd. They’re a truly innovative company,” says Carter.

NZ Hothouse is another that was propelled into a technology-based new future. Facing post-covid labour shortages, they have invested in automation technology, significantly enhancing the productivity of the business.

Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of Paul Carter 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 loss or damage whatsoever which may directly or indirectly result from any information, representation or omission, whether negligent or otherwise, contained in this article.

Lending criteria, terms and fees apply to the products and services mentioned in this article.

*MyBusiness Live eligibility criteria and terms apply. Use of any app is subject to the relevant App Provider’s terms and such terms are separate to the MyBusiness Live terms. For more information visit www.bnz.co.nz/business-banking/small-business/mybusiness-live

We’re the bank for New Zealand. We’ve been helping our customers make their goals a reality for over 150 years, and now we’re working with them to redesign banking for the future.