Renata Blair, head of Mori business at BNZ. Photo / Supplied”Banks haven’t always been good with Mori,” says Renata Blair, BNZ’s head of Mori business.
But then, the banking world hasn’t been well understood by many Mori, he says on the Money Talks podcast.
“I’ve always thought, how do we bridge the banking world and iwi world? If we could bring both together, then both could be successful.”
Blair, who grew up in Helensville with a Mori mother and Pkeh father, is well placed to build that bridge.
He was instilled with a strong understanding of the Pkeh and Mori world view from a young age.
“Dad’s not Mori but he loved the culture,” he says. “He met a beautiful Ngti Whtua princess from Helensville and we were always involved at the marae.
“That was hugely unusual in the 1970s and early 1980s for a guy born in Greymouth who grew up in Palmerston North.
“He spoke Mori; he named all us kids when Mum wanted to name us English names. He’d put down hng all the time.”
It wasn’t easy, even having a Mori name in the 1970s, Blair recalls.
“People wouldn’t pronounce your name properly; you’d be embarrassed. My name, I thought, was relatively easy.”
Blair says he was instilled with a good work ethic and understanding of money.
“Dad was pretty cheap, pretty frugal. You always hear the jokes about Scottish with short arms, long pockets. Mum was a bit more extravagant.”
He recalls working in commercial vegetable gardens from the age of 10, “getting a pay packet in a brown envelope and hearing all the cash jingle inside”.
“We weren’t really taught about money; we were just taught if you worked hard you’d get money,” he says.
“Dad was a teacher so we did have a good income.
“The key one was education. They knew that if we had [that] and strong moritanga, we could combine both to help us for our future.
“We’re lucky we’ve been brought up that way understanding our tribal history,” he says.
Blair’s younger brother Ngarimu has also gone on to leadership roles in business and iwi he is deputy chair of Ngti Whtua rkei.
“We were either pushed into leadership roles or it came naturally and seeing Mum and Dad playing those roles on the marae was an influence.”
Blair initially followed his father into teaching but after four years decided to retrain and launched a career in the business world.
He did events and marketing for AUT before deciding to go out on his own.
“Mum will say I never really liked people telling me what to do so I worked for myself. You learn by your successes and your mistakes. I ran my own company for 12 years, involved in some big events like Rugby World Cup and America’s Cup.
“When the Spark Arena was built I got involved in running shows and things.”
Blair has also been on Ngti Whtua rkei Trust board for the past seven years.
It is clearly a commercially successful operation, but he says he felt it had never fully understood the banking sector, and for its part, the banking sector had never fully understood how iwi operate.
As a result, he has seized the opportunity to take on his new role at the BNZ.He aims to bring four key Mori values into the bank culture.
There is whanaungatanga, he says.
“That’s about how do you gel together as a family,” he says. “How do we unify the bank to understand Mori more so they can be more successful in their economic aspiration?
There’s manaakitanga, which “is about how you care for people, how you connect, you open your doors you put on the kai, you acknowledge people. For Mori it’s in your culture to do that.”
There is whai rawa. “That’s about how you build assets and resources. So previously Mori had everything … forest, the birds, the lands, the oceans. How in modern days do you accumulate wealth to provide for your people?
“And then there is kaitiakitanga guardianship, looking after our environment. How do we leave enough resource there to make enough resource to provide for your people?”
There are cultural challenges in getting the banking sector to recognise the longer time horizons and the communal ownership structures of Mori investment opportunities, Blair says.
“Historically banks have taken a dim view around that.” But Mori assets are very safe, very conservative, he says.
“Yes, the land is in shared title but you do have strong governance, professional executive leadership.” There’s a lot of equity and a lot of security involved.
All that is more of an advantage than a risk he argues.
“You’ve got a lot of unused land that Mori are prepared to develop now.
“I’ve built two homes on Mori land but the bank wouldn’t lend on it. We had to go to different financial institutions or the tribe had to fund it.
“I always thought that wasn’t fair. Because I earned a really good wage and so did my wife. We had low levels of debt. We were a safe bet.
“So what I’m trying to do is increase that access to capital for Mori so they can build homes and provide for their families.”
When you’re building on Mori land you’re only paying for the house, he says. “Mori see our economic horizons and projections as 50 to 100 years; we’re not on a kind of high productive return that some businesses would want to see.
“But we still perform highly in the corporate financial and economic world. We still have a drive for profit.”
There are plenty of successful cultures and economies all round the world that take a long term view, he says.
While iwi groups are making great progress, there are still serious economic issues in the Mori community.
Most of that is down to financial literacy, Blair says.
“It’s how you treat money, how you save, how you spend, how you plan for the future. Money has only been introduced into the Mori world in the last 150 years or so. It’s very new.
“There is education needed for Mori families. Tribes are taking an active role in teaching their people about saving and budgeting. Tribes are stepping in with things like health insurance, building homes.”
But he notes that iwi wealth is about 20 per cent of overall Mori wealth, with 80 per cent out there in small and medium business.
There is talent there that needs to be brought through, he argues.
“If you position Mori at the top table then that will flow through your organisation,” he says.
“We’ve got sophisticated professional Mori directors out there. I’d impress upon people to take it to the top table. That would make a huge difference.”
Blair commends Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr for the work he’s done aligning strategy to the concept of Tne Mahuta the great kauri tree.
“It’s a financial ecosystem. If the tree and the forest are strong, if the ecosystem is strong it just keeps feeding itself,” he says.
“If the ecosystem is out of place as the New Zealand ecosystem has been with not including Mori in the economy then it’s not as strong as it should be.
“We just need to understand that Maori have a massive role to play in the future,” Blair says. “We’re a growing population.
“We’ll be the workforce of the future; the more that we play a part and are included in the financial ecosystem the better it will be for this country.
“Iwi are still underperforming in terms of their economic to contribution society and banks are part of how we raise that economic success.”
Money Talks
The Money Talks podcast series isn’t about personal finance and isn’t about economics, it’s just well-known New Zealanders talking about money and sharing some stories about the impact it’s had on their lives and how it has shaped them.
You can find new episodes in the Herald, or subscribe on iHeartRadio, Spotify or wherever you get podcasts.
Previous guests include: Kerre McIvor, Sir Michael Cullen, Shane Te Pou, Sharon Zollner and Theresa Gattung, and Matt Heath.
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