Westpac New Zealand chief executive Peter Clare may
have only been in the country since April, but he has some
strong views on the New Zealand persona. He tells business
editor Dene Mackenzie New Zealanders should make the most of
the opportunities before them.
Westpac New Zealand chief executive Peter Clare. Photo by
Earlier this year, Westpac New Zealand chief executive Peter
Clare attended the Bledisloe Cup test match between the
Wallabies and All Blacks in which the All Blacks demolished
the Wallabies 22-0.
Married to a New Zealander, Mr Clare has been involved in
some interesting discussions about which rugby team to
support, but said he was now firmly in the camp of the All
"New Zealand is putting food on my table so I am definitely
an All Black supporter," he said in an interview.
"And, for a portly chap, black is a good colour to wear."
Mr Clare said he was surprised, if not astounded, to find out
at the match the last time the All Blacks had held Australia
to a nil score was 50 years ago.
"New Zealanders should have been jumping up and punching the
air in celebration. Instead, the people were saying New
Zealand could've played better. In Australia, we bowl
underarm and still call it a win."
As a new New Zealander, Mr Clare said the country had so much
going for it and he urged Kiwis to make the most of the
This week, Mr Clare was in Dunedin hosting the first of three
Grow NZ Vision Forums being held throughout the country. The
audience was made up of civic and business leaders from
Dunedin and surrounding regions.
He hoped the seminars would help unlock New Zealanders'
innate conservatism and cautiousness.
While acknowledging New Zealand went into a recession early
into the global financial crisis (GFC), Mr Clare said the
country had borne up well compared with some others.
Westpac economists were forecasting a rise in New Zealand
interest rates in the middle of next year, a sign of an
"Now is the best time for New Zealanders to recalibrate their
confidence and work out what they will look like in a year's
Mr Clare arrived in Dunedin on the day an employment survey
showed Otago near the bottom of the pile in terms of
confidence. The survey was taken before the announcement
Alliance Group planned to lay off 325 workers at its Mataura
Asked about how the run of redundancies would affect his call
for New Zealanders to recalibrate their confidence, Mr Clare
said survey results were just what they were.
Being open for business now would give organisations the
chance to jump-start when the economy improved.
After six months in the country, Mr Clare said he was
impressed with the social, economic, environmental and other
advantages New Zealand enjoyed.
"I am surprised more people don't want to come and live
When it was pointed out New Zealanders continued to flood to
Australia for job opportunities, he said the approach was
fundamentally different in Australia where the Government
"pump-primed" the economy by bringing in about 200,000
immigrants each year.
"Life is not so bad in New Zealand. If you can have a change
of heart, and the Government focuses on growth in New Zealand
and the population increases, that puts us in good shape in
the coming period."
The change in customer behaviour for Westpac NZ had been
interesting to observe and was providing good balance for the
economy, he said.
There was a deliberate move to reduce debt on company balance
sheets and in personal households. Customers were thinking
twice before borrowing money. Instead, they were either
paying down debt or saving.
Housing lending growth was bubbling along at 1%-3% a year,
down from the peak of 10%, but deposit growth was up to 6%-8%
"We are seeing in our own organisation industry positioning
with retail deposits supporting lending. That is good for the
country, good for the banking system. It makes the system
safer and more secure because we are less exposed to
There was still some way to go, Mr Clare said. New Zealand
was near the top of the global personal debt table. That
deleveraging needed to be balanced with lower economic growth
The strength of the New Zealand economy was underpinned by
the banking system which had weathered the GFC well.
"Many other countries around the world would like to have the
New Zealand banking system."
The banks, mainly Australian owned, had taken a conservative
approach to the debt vehicles being offered around the time
the GFC started, he said.
It was difficult to understand what the long-term returns
would have been on some of the offerings and it was safer not
Mr Clare acknowledged Australia had a two-speed economy, with
Queensland and Western Australia feeling the benefits of
mining, and other parts, like New South Wales, struggling in
He had talked to former Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard
about the possibility of New Zealand having a two-speed
economy once the Christchurch rebuild was fully under way.
There was a sense tradespeople and businesses were moving to
Christchurch to take advantage of the opportunities opening
up, at the expense of some other regions.
Westpac was supporting customers expecting revenue growth in
"There is a complexity to managing the economy when you only
have [the] official cash rate. In the end, it is better to
have one area of strong economic growth in the country than
none. It is a problem of complexity, not a problem overall,"
Mr Clare said.
AT A GLANCE
Peter Clare, Westpac New Zealand chief
• Age, 48.
• Married to Kirsten, a New Zealander from Hawkes Bay
• Two sons, Billie and Ted.
• Committed All Blacks supporter now he lives in New
• Coveted the Westpac NZ job for a long time.