Money Stuff

5 questions with Retirement Commissioner Diana Maxwell


We checked in with New Zealand’s Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell to get her take on why it’s so hard to plan for the future, and what she reckons the average Kiwi can do to improve their chances of a rosy future. As Retirement Commissioner Diane leads the Commission for Financial Capability (previously the Retirement Commission). The Commissioner's goal is building the financial capability of New Zealanders of all ages, with an increased focus on low-income and vulnerable groups.

Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to plan for their future?

It’s easy to focus on today, it’s here, it’s real and the rewards are instant. The future feels a long way off, and we can convince ourselves through some psychic maths that ‘something will happen’ to fix any future problems.

What are your plans over the next five years to change people’s attitudes towards planning for their futures?

To continue to bring conversations about money and the future into the everyday, in plain English, stripping out the jargon and making it relevant and compelling. People are not wealth-optimizing-machines, they are driven by egos, pride, status, peer pressure, love, social norms etc. When we understand that, we realise giving out information will not drive the behaviour change we’re looking for. It’s a little more complex than just handing out info, and our work will continue to reflect that.

What are the Commission for Financial Capability doing differently this year that they weren’t doing last year?

Our use of social media is getting increasingly sophisticated. Our retirement income policy videos have just hit 141,000 views on YouTube, which is an incredible figure for something people apparently aren’t interested in. It turns out they are. Weave an in-house production team, so producing videos and airing them via YouTube is a cheap way to reach a lot of people, including new younger audiences.

What is the biggest issue we are facing as a nation when it comes to money?

High interest debt used to purchase stuff we don’t need. Often the things we’ve bought are long gone while the debt is still there and growing. Comes back to our focus on today, and thinking about whether we can make the weekly payment rather than how much we are paying overall in the longer term. Also comes down to deciding whether we want it or need it.

What is the most valuable piece of wisdom you’ve ever received about money?

In my 20s and 30s I didn’t listen to much advice about money because it wasn’t delivered in a way I could relate to. The pictures, words, information just seemed to be tailored for ‘other people’. It’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about getting more diversity into the advice sector, using fewer idealised pictures of smiling couples on beaches (complete with pastel cashmere sweaters) and just doing a better job of reflecting people’s actual lives, in all their messiness and chaos.