Education, advocacy key for investor stalwart

New Zealand Shareholders’ Association chief executive Oliver Mander, of Wellington. PHOTO: PETER...
New Zealand Shareholders’ Association chief executive Oliver Mander, of Wellington. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Oliver Mander’s mission is to help and encourage New Zealanders to have a financially secure future. The chief executive of the New Zealand Shareholders Association talks to business reporter Riley Kennedy about encouraging new investors to the market and sticking up for them.

Oliver Mander’s first investment was at age 13.

The 50-year-old does not remember what the company was. He does remember the brokerage fees were higher than the share price.

Mr Mander, of Wellington, leads the New Zealand Shareholders’ Association (NZSA) — an organisation advocating for and encouraging retail investors to the market.

Mr Mander’s childhood, growing up in various towns in inland Canterbury, was a world away from the cut and thrust of trading room floors.

As a child, money was tight and Mr Mander believed he grew up in a generation that got turned off investment through either feeling disenfranchised by the system or market crashes, particularly in the 1980s.

His father worked at a carpet factory in Riccarton. Mr Mander could not think of him walking into a broker’s office wearing his overalls asking for investment advice.

"It was just a whole different world and a whole generation of Kiwis couldn’t relate to that future."

Mr Mander has now made it his mission to help reconnect New Zealanders to the possibility of a secure financial future.

After starting at a young age, his investment journey helped him pay for various life stages.

His first investment paid for his university fees.

The next round helped pay for a house and now he was preparing for a "relaxed" retirement.

"I’m nowhere near retiring age yet so I’ve got a long way to go," he said.

It was only in recent years that his career had focused on the equity and listed markets.

He attended the University of Canterbury, studying a bachelor of commerce with "lots of majors", including finance and accountancy.

After graduating, he secured a role at BP Group and stayed for nearly 20 years.

His first job at the petrol company was as an analyst and he eventually worked his way up to general manager of transformation in the senior executive team.

Throughout his various roles at BP, he lived and worked in Australia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Mr Mander believed working at BP taught him functional and leadership skills — "and that has underpinned a lot of what I’ve done since".

When he returned to New Zealand in 2012, he worked for internet provider Chorus, and then briefly for Z Energy advising it on its then proposed purchase of Caltex NZ.

After that, he moved into local government and took on the role of manager of information at Wellington Water, leading its technology, data and information services.

In late 2019, he had an "epiphany of sorts" and realised he wanted to go back to a "more holistic way" of looking at the world.

He took over a fortnightly column, previously written by the late Brian Gaynor, focused on analysis of New Zealand listed equities.

In 2020, the opportunity to take over as chief executive of NZSA came up.

"With my passion for markets and equities, I couldn’t turn that down," he said.

The association, similar to an industry body, has about 1500 members, mostly retail investors, and is aimed at making sure markets are transparent and fair.

It researches and produces annual reports on most companies on the NZX, the unlisted exchange and the 23 New Zealand incorporated companies on the ASX.

This week, Mr Mander did a tour of the lower South Island meeting its members and holding seminars about issues and topics impacting investors — "and there is no shortage," he said.

As Covid-19 inflation pressures, supply chain issues and the Russia and Ukraine war started to impact the global economy, markets throughout the world started to turn and share prices fell.

In recent years, people have been joining online investment platforms such as Sharesies and Hatch. Mr Mander believed they had created a generational shift and had done a great service in the long-term.

However, this year those people would possibly have experienced their first downturn and might have lost some money.

When Covid-19 first hit more than two years ago, markets took a "huge decline" but quickly recovered — and very strongly too, he said.

"It was almost heartbreaking to hear stories of people looking at their KiwiSavers ... downturns are natural.

"You may get lucky with timing the market, but good luck with that, it’s not the best strategy," he said.

Mr Mander explained he did not want to appear to be a financial adviser, but said in general terms investors should think long-term not day-by-day.

Educating, informing and encouraging investors was one of his favourite parts of his NZSA job.

Another part of his job was advocating on investors’ behalf, which included holding companies to account.

Last month, dual-listed chemical manufacturing company DGL Group Ltd came under intense scrutiny after its chief executive Simon Henry described well-known chef Nadia Lim as "Eurasian fluff" and suggested she used her cleavage to help sell share in My Food Bag when it first listed.

NZSA issued a statement at the time titled "It’s not the 1970s any more".

Mr Mander believed that Mr Henry’s comments were insulting to most retail and institutional investors, as well as Ms Lim.

DGL Group told shareholders it was commissioning an independent review of its diversity and Mr Mander said NZSA would be making sure that was disclosed to the market because "it does matter".

Diversity improved the decision-making of all companies, Mr Mander said.

"We don’t hold those businesses to account because it’s a box-ticking exercise, we actually do want to see governance improved in New Zealand."

Mr Mander had been trying to meet Mr Henry and the DGL Group but was having little luck — "we will keep trying until we get answers".

While NZSA had come out strongly against DGL Group, Mr Mander said it was not the hardest it had stood up for its members.

"Advocacy takes different forms," he said.

Last year, NZSA’s advocacy saw all of the members on Coromandel mining company New Talisman Gold Mines’ board resign.

The association was concerned about the lack of delivery from the company and the level of then chief executive Matt Hall’s salary compared with its market capitalisation.

"They had a very high cash burn rate," Mr Mander said.

NZSA engaged with the company about its concerns and facilitated a conversation between shareholders and the board.

"Shareholder activism does matter and the New Talisman case was an example of that," he said.