Diane Maxwell:

De­spite all our achieve­ments jug­gling ca­reer and fam­ily, many women still fall short when it comes to fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner Diane Maxwell is on a mis­sion to change that and tells Ni­cola Rus­sell how her own strug­gles have in­spir

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CON­TENTS - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ● EMILY CHALK

her mis­sion to change the way Kiwi women think about money

ON THE DAY she was sup­posed to re­turn to her part­ner­ship role in a top ad­ver­tis­ing firm in Lon­don, Diane Maxwell was stand­ing on Franz Josef Glacier, about to re­turn to a back­packer hos­tel and drink cheap wine. Be­ing away from Lon­don, where she’d work all day, en­ter­tain clients at night and had be­come used to a life in which be­ing flown to Paris for lunch and the French Open was nor­mal, she had found per­spec­tive again. That was 16 years ago – and what was meant to be a hol­i­day in New Zealand be­came a life here.

An­i­mated, vi­brantly dressed and a keen long­boarder (think long skate­board), Diane is not what you might ex­pect in a Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner. She’s known hard­ship grow­ing up, and then again as a sin­gle mum in her 30s, and she’s also been friv­o­lous with money when in her high-fly­ing ad­ver­tis­ing ca­reer. In her four years as Com­mis­sioner she’s in­tro­duced a fresh ap­proach to the role, changed the name from The Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sion to The Com­mis­sion for Fi­nan­cial Ca­pa­bil­ity and used her ad­ver­tis­ing back­ground to change the way peo­ple think about sav­ing for re­tire­ment in New Zealand. The name change re­flects her fo­cus, which she says is 80 per cent about build­ing fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity through­out life, rather than just for re­tire­ment.

“One of the main things I have done in this role is I have trans­lated fi­nance into English – we are tak­ing the jar­gon out of it and we are mak­ing it in­ter­est­ing. Most of our work is with peo­ple un­der 60 – we work a lot with schools, teenagers and peo­ple in their 30s, 40s and 50s and we are doing a lot of work with women.”

Born in New Zealand, Diane lived here un­til she was 10 be­fore mov­ing to Lon­don with her par­ents. She doesn’t want to say much about her child­hood; just that her fam­ily moved con­stantly and money was scarce. She started work­ing part-time at 13 and didn’t stop – from wash­ing hair in a hair­dress­ing sa­lon to sell­ing hot cross buns in a rab­bit suit. She got through univer­sity by work­ing re­lent­lessly dur­ing the hol­i­days: cook­ing dur­ing the day at a restau­rant and work­ing into the night at a night­club.

At univer­sity, she stud­ied phi­los­o­phy, pro­pa­ganda and psy­chol­ogy – in a nut­shell, learn­ing about the hu­man brain and de­ci­sion­mak­ing. Ini­tially, she says, she used those “pow­ers for evil” and landed a job in a top Lon­don ad­ver­tis­ing firm as a con­sumer strate­gist. She planned to be in ad­ver­tis­ing for six months but

RIGHT: Diane uses her ad­ver­tis­ing back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ence in bank­ing to help oth­ers un­der­stand the lan­guage of money.

be­came a high-pow­ered, high-rolling ex­ec­u­tive and re­mained in the game for 15 years.

When she moved back to New Zealand at 32 (for­feit­ing her share in her Lon­don ad­ver­tis­ing agency) she was head­hunted by a top Auck­land ad­ver­tis­ing firm, but didn’t stay there long. The con­cepts she’d been work­ing with in Lon­don hadn’t reached New Zealand and she was met with re­sis­tance when she tried to in­tro­duce them.

So she be­came a con­sul­tant (more flex­i­bil­ity, bet­ter money), which in­cluded work­ing with banks. That’s when she dis­cov­ered her love of fi­nance. She moved into re­tail bank­ing at BNZ, be­came the Reg­u­la­tor at the Fi­nan­cial Mar­kets Author­ity and then as­sumed her cur­rent role as Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner.

She ad­mits that while her child­hood re­sulted in a tenac­ity to work hard, it didn’t make her fi­nan­cially re­spon­si­ble – she earned big dur­ing her 20s but also spent big, and when she be­came a sin­gle mum in her 30s and had to tone down her ca­reer, she cursed her­self for not putting enough away.

When daugh­ter Jamie, now 15, was born, Diane de­cided to work less, sell her house and “burn through her sav­ings” to make up the short­fall. She’s glad she made the decision to be at home with Jamie, who has ASD (Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­der), but she does re­gret not build­ing a nest egg for her­self in her 20s when she could. “We had some re­ally stress­ful times fi­nan­cially, and while I had made that choice, I had those 3am mo­ments of ‘how the hell am I go­ing to pay for things?’ What an­noyed me most was I’d earned so much money for so long and I had noth­ing to show for it – I had spent it, spent it, spent it and that was be­cause I kinda wasn’t driven by money – I had al­ways earned good money and knew I could get a job, and I thought it would al­ways come in.”

Diane says she of­ten hears sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes from women, who tell her money is just not im­por­tant to them. So she has set up events tar­geted specif­i­cally at women, which are rel­e­vant to them and show what money can do for them.

“When I talk about women get­ting fi­nan­cially sorted I am not talking about as­pir­ing to own­ing yachts, al­though they are wel­come to; I am talking about the kind of fi­nan­cially sorted where you sleep well at night be­cause you know you have a buf­fer, you have got sav­ings, and if the shit hit the fan you could deal to it.

“Hav­ing money aside as a buf­fer means you can kick out a bloke who is bad for you, make choices about jobs and your life part­ner and where you live – and all of that mat­ters.

“In my 20s I had never read any­thing about money that seemed rel­e­vant to me be­cause so much stuff is writ­ten by men in men’s lan­guage. A lot of what we are doing now is trans­lat­ing it. I wish some­one had said to me then, ‘Put enough away so that you can have your own home and you can make the choices you need to make in tough times.’ That would have got through.”

While her daugh­ter is now thriv­ing, ahead two years at school and with a tal­ent for spe­cial-ef­fects make-up, Diane says rais­ing Jamie alone for years wasn’t easy. Her fam­ily lives in the UK and Jamie’s fa­ther lives in Gis­borne and has her four weeks a year. The rest she has done on her own. Diane re­turned to work at BNZ when Jamie was five, where she was the head of nine busi­ness units. She re­mem­bers the work-life jug­gle well.

“We had so many crazy mo­ments. I’d drop her at school and she would say, ‘Mum, you have to come back for sports day,’ and I would drive to the bus stop, get the bus to town, have a meet­ing about core fund­ing ra­tios, leap up to get the bus back to the car, drive to school and race to sports day in my suit and heels.

“When you think of sin­gle par­ents you tend to think of some­one who is on a ben­e­fit rais­ing kids, but there is an army of sin­gle mums in New Zealand who are work­ing big jobs, and you don’t tend to be talked about as much.”

She says be­cause so many mums are busy, it is com­mon to fo­cus on what’s im­mi­nent, with lit­tle time to fo­cus on their fi­nan­cial fu­ture.

“There is a lot of re­search that shows women are re­ally good at day-to-day bud­get­ing but they are not as good at the long-term fi­nan­cial plan­ning. We are too busy rais­ing chil­dren and doing all the things we do – work­ing, house­work, jug­gling, jug­gling, jug­gling – so we make it through to­day, we make it through to­mor­row, but we don’t think about 10 years.

Men are more likely to think about 10 years.

“The sad­dest stuff we get is the women who have been sin­gle mums and have spent a life­time rais­ing their kids and worked hard ev­ery day… and sud­denly we look up and we are 45 and the kids are leav­ing home and we go, ‘What about me? I have got noth­ing.’ I get a lot of peo­ple writ­ing and telling me that.

“The re­ally hard thing is that by the time you have done a day’s work, picked the kids up and done the bath, din­ner and bed rou­tine – are you go­ing to sit down and do a 10-year plan?”

She says the com­mis­sion is en­cour­ag­ing women to make time for them­selves to fo­cus on fi­nances. This month they will launch a so­cial me­dia cam­paign that urges women to take an hour out on July 30 to plan for their fi­nan­cial fu­ture. Diane will is­sue a let­ter on­line for women to print out and present to their fam­ily that will have in­struc­tions not to bother them dur­ing that time. The women will then be able to fill in an on­line quiz about their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, which will point them in the di­rec­tion of more in­for­ma­tion and tools to help them get their fu­ture sorted. The Com­mis­sion will also have a team of ex­perts stand­ing by – live on­line – to an­swer any ques­tions they may have.

“It’s about tak­ing a step back. For­get about to­day, for­get about next week, for­get about the phone bill. Ask your­self, ‘Where do I want to be in 10 years and how will that change what I do to­day? Am I putting enough into Ki­wisaver? Do I have Ki­wisaver? Do I have the right fund? Am I sav­ing any­thing? Am I go­ing up or down? Do I want to be a home­owner?’ That’s what we don’t do enough.

“Many women will sit in the hair­dresser’s chair for a cou­ple of hours ev­ery few months and in­vest in their hair so I say, ‘Think about the time and money you would spend on your hair in a given year, save 10 per cent of that and you could be much bet­ter off.”

The fi­nan­cial re­search is grim for women, who gen­er­ally reach re­tire­ment with less money than men, live longer and are more likely to be sin­gle.

“While it is a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion, women’s fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity through all the re­search we have got is lower than men’s. That is be­cause women say things like, ‘I can’t do this stuff.’ They grow up be­ing told they can’t do this stuff, so it’s partly a con­fi­dence is­sue.

“I would like women to get a bit fiercer about money – I would love them to get bolder. I would love them to sit in front of a banker or an ad­vi­sor and go, ‘I do not un­der­stand what on earth you are talking about, and I am go­ing to sit here un­til I do, and last time I looked I was the client and it is your job to put it in English for me.’ I would love women to be tougher on the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor.” She wants them to ask for what they de­serve. “One of the rea­sons women have less money is they earn less, and sometimes they earn less doing the same job. Part of that is women don’t ask for a pay rise and part of it is women don’t think money mat­ters as much.”

Our strengths as women can be our weak­ness. Diane says we are too quick to make the best of bad cir­cum­stances.

“When women find them­selves in a hole, they tend to plant flow­ers and make it look like the

When women are in a hole, they tend to plant flow­ers.

most beau­ti­ful hole they have ever lived in. If men find them­selves in a hole they will tend to dig their way out. If women don’t have enough money com­ing in, all our work sug­gests they will cut their costs or ex­penses, whereas men will look for new rev­enue streams – so the prob­lem is sometimes we are re­ally good at mak­ing bad sit­u­a­tions good, when we should be say­ing, ‘I won’t ac­cept this.’”

Women also need to pro­tect them­selves around the money they do have. “What I say fiercely to women is, ‘If you get into a re­la­tion­ship, get a Re­la­tion­ship Prop­erty Agree­ment [RPA].’ It will cost you about $1000 – in­vest the money. Women in their 40s and 50s, who have ei­ther been on their own for a long time or come out of a mar­riage and then fall in love… it’s all over­whelm­ing and won­der­ful, but within three years [if they break up] he gets half – half of your Ki­wisaver, half of your house, half of sav­ings.

“The prob­lem is women don’t like to sit down, get the cal­cu­la­tor out and get a bit hard-core when we are in love – but if any­body you meet is re­sis­tant to an RPA, get a bit tough on them. Say, ‘I am look­ing after my­self; if you love me, you would want me to look after my­self.’”

Diane, now 50, met her hus­band, Mar­i­ota Smutz (a 41-year-old re­gional ad­vi­sor for the NZ Trans­port Agency), seven years ago in par­lia­ment, where they had both been in­vited as part of their roles in gov­ern­ment. She was Com­mis­sioner, he a chief ad­viser at Auck­land Re­gional Health. The chem­istry was im­me­di­ate, but they spent two years as friends – she would not let him into the house un­til after that time.

“I had been a sin­gle par­ent for five or six years be­fore then and you get re­ally wary of bring­ing peo­ple into their [your chil­dren’s] lives. I wanted to pro­tect that but then after two years you go, well, he is not ex­actly fly-by-night is he?”

A cou­ple of years later the cou­ple wel­comed baby Har­ri­son, now aged five. She was in her 40s, and hadn’t planned to have a baby but says they were both “open to it”.

She says hav­ing a baby later in life was eas­ier than doing it as a sin­gle mum. “I was on my own with Jamie for so long and the fact that there are four of us this time makes things so much eas­ier.”

De­spite (or be­cause of) be­ing in big jobs, Diane and Mar­i­ota have main­tained their sense of fun. Their long­boards hang above the couch in their liv­ing room, dou­bling as art when not in use. “You have chil­dren and you get a lot more se­ri­ous, so we just made a decision as a cou­ple that we were go­ing to make time to do the things we love.”

So when her last toy – a Kawasaki 500 – was sold, they got the long­boards. “I didn’t want to get a new mo­tor­bike and we both re­ally wanted to try long­board­ing, and so we said, ‘Right, let’s do it,’ and I love it! I al­ways wear a hel­met and pads be­cause I don’t want to hit my head or break my arms. I need them. It is fan­tas­tic – at night-time in the sum­mer we would jump in the car with our long­boards and then drive around find­ing places to board. There is a carpark at the train sta­tion that has a re­ally good slope!”

Diane is about a year into her sec­ond three-year term at the Com­mis­sion and is con­sid­er­ing her next step. “I could go back into bank­ing and earn some de­cent money but over the years I have thought more and more about go­ing into pol­i­tics – you do a job like this one be­cause you be­lieve in what you can do and I have the de­ter­mi­na­tion to do it. No­body works in th­ese jobs to chase the money, so you make a decision.”

What party would she join? “In the US, after that re­volt­ing elec­tion, lots of groups started try­ing to en­cour­age women into pol­i­tics; what they are say­ing is pol­i­tics is mov­ing into a dif­fer­ent space and it’s no longer ex­treme de­bates about left or right – so it would de­pend on where the par­ties are.”

She wor­ries there are not enough peo­ple go­ing into pol­i­tics be­cause of the per­sonal vit­riol that comes their way – some­thing she has ex­pe­ri­enced as Com­mis­sioner.

“Be­ing in the pub­lic eye is hard,” she says.

“I have peo­ple email me daily with some quite nasty stuff. Sometimes it’s funny – some­one told me my watch was too big, I was wear­ing a man’s jacket and they didn’t like my glasses. Sometimes it’s vi­cious.”

But it will take more than that to bully Diane Maxwell out of doing some­thing she wants to do.

“I kinda just don’t care. Frankly, if you can sell hot cross buns in a rab­bit suit you can do any­thing!”

We de­cided to make time to do the things we love.

BE­LOW: Diane with daugh­ter Jamie and son Har­ri­son. After be­ing a solo mum with Jamie for sev­eral years, Diane met her hus­band, Mar­i­ota Smutz. Har­ri­son’s ar­rival made them a fam­ily of four, which Diane says is “much eas­ier”.

ABOVE: Diane in her liv­ing room, where the long­boards she and Mar­i­ota ride dou­ble up as art­work on the wall when not in use.

ABOVE: Diane and hus­band Mar­i­ota – they spent two years as friends be­fore be­com­ing a cou­ple.

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