Companies are missing out on business because they are lagging behind other areas of society in understanding and embracing ethnic diversity, says Nick Siu, director of consultancy The Agency 88.

"The Asian dollar is strong and we spend," Siu said.

"Asians spend money, and significant amounts of money, on things that are important to them and they're going to spend money where they feel that they are represented, understood, and where there's a level of cultural understanding that they feel their dollar is going to be valued," he said.

"Companies who can get serious about that and have a better understanding of it will win that wallet - and that wallet is a fat one."

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Siu said a lot of opportunities were being lost, with ethnic groups forming communities and business hubs because other companies were not catering for them.

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"We're already seeing [companies losing out]," Siu said. "We're seeing it happen within the supermarket space, the healthcare space, people are going to go to people they feel comfortable around and that's when we start seeing communities being created - they all have the same needs but if they aren't being catered to or represented, let alone being spoken to in their own language, they are going to go elsewhere."

Siu said although a number of companies were becoming aware of the issue many were still lagging behind.

Asian people were under-represented in management positions and companies lacked bilingual skills and an understanding of cultural differences, despite the fact most population growth in the next few years will come from the Asian community, Siu said.

"One word - relationships," Siu said. "Everything within the Asian community is about relationships, and they don't happen overnight."

Siu said it was important for firms to understand the importance of building relationships - a requirement that would grow in the future.

"It is exciting, New Zealand is a very young country," Siu said.

"So we can help define it and help shape it though these conversations we are having right now around super diversity, from the changing faces of schoolchildren, to what's happening in the community, to business," he said.

"Business is lagging a little bit behind right now but it's going to catch up fast because we're having these conversations and the numbers are such that you can't deny it anymore."

Staff help different cultures plan wills

Perpetual Guardian's Auckland team (from left) Matthew Prockter (NZ), Luseane Akau (Tonga), Tony Tung (Taiwan), Hineatauira Wilkinson (Maori), Kent Walker (NZ) Gracie Choo-Thocolich (Singapore) and Iqfa Hudda (India). Photo / Nick Reed
Perpetual Guardian's Auckland team (from left) Matthew Prockter (NZ), Luseane Akau (Tonga), Tony Tung (Taiwan), Hineatauira Wilkinson (Maori), Kent Walker (NZ) Gracie Choo-Thocolich (Singapore) and Iqfa Hudda (India). Photo / Nick Reed

Getting a better understanding of how different cultures see life and death has allowed trustee and estate planning company Perpetual Guardian to tap into a more diverse range of customers.

The company has a long history in New Zealand but has taken a different tack under new owner Andrew Barnes.

The expat Brit bought Perpetual in 2013 and then Guardian in April 2014.

Charlotte Lockhart, Perpetual Guardian sales and marketing director, said Barnes could see that trustee and estate planning companies were failing to meet customer needs with only half of Kiwis having a will.

"A huge number of adult New Zealanders were disengaged with the process."

Lockhart said the company wanted to find out why that was.

"A large part was because the market had changed," she said.

"Some of it is the diversity issue, particularly in Auckland - you would have to be blind not to realise that."

To address the situation Perpetual Guardian launched an online will business in November to target younger customers and has reached out to different community groups.

Lockhart said the company was working with the New Zealand Asian Leaders organisation to let people know about the different laws affecting inheritances in New Zealand.

"The laws in New Zealand don't give the same protection as back home. So they need to engage in planning."

In China typically the oldest child gets everything and that is the same in India, she said.

In New Zealand people can decide what they want and ensure their wishes are carried out through a will.

The company has had to be culturally mindful.

"Particularly in Maori and Chinese markets talking about death is a no-no."

Perpetual Guardian has translated its website into Mandarin and te reo and was looking at ways to better communicate with other cultures.

"One of the women we have engaged with runs a languages programme at Citizens Advice," Lockhart said. "It provides advice in 25 languages."

While the company isn't planning to offer its service in that many languages she said it wanted to support a person who had contact with so many parts of the community.

Within its own business Perpetual Guardian was seeing a shift in staff.

"Traditionally we have been a very grey, white, male business."

That had changed as the firm attracted younger and more diverse people.

Lockhart said the firm actively looked for diverse candidates when hiring although it still came down to who had the best skills for the job. That meant looking for staff in different places.

"Those people exist, we have just got to make sure they know the jobs are available. It's about making sure the employment process is inclusive."

One of its new tools was an incentive payment to staff who recommended a successful candidate for a job.

The business has an Asian-born human resources co-ordinator and is about to hire a second mobile estate planner who speaks Mandarin.

While Lockhart could not put a figure on the bottom line impact of the changes she said the business was now doing 50 per cent of its wills online.

"We have done more wills in the last three months than in the last year."

Foodstuffs' diversity puts smiles in aisles

Baden Ngan Kee, general manager Merchandise of Foodstuffs North Island. Photo / Dean Purcell
Baden Ngan Kee, general manager Merchandise of Foodstuffs North Island. Photo / Dean Purcell

Retailer Foodstuffs Group is already seeing results from changing the way it operates to cater for the growing ethnic diversity of its customers, says general manager Baden Ngan Kee.

Foodstuffs operates 360 supermarkets across New Zealand through its Pak'nSave, New World and Four Square brands.

"I think it's something we're becoming increasingly aware of and we're only at an early stage of understanding this diversity," Ngan Kee said.

"We're working on key trial stores before we have a full solution, so it is still in the early stages, but we're encouraged by the results we're seeing."

The trials include the types and availability of products, and rostering of staff to help customers from different cultural backgrounds.

Pak'nSave Albany merchandise manager Yew Hsin Cheng said the store was always looking to grow its customer base but had not expected such an explosion in Asian customer numbers.

Ngan Kee said the store was planning to expand its international section.

"The two areas we are really looking at are individual stores and catchments where there are concentrations of ethnicities and also across all our stores we have our international section," he said.

"It's great not just for ethnicities because of the diversity of food and fusion and so forth, but for everyone - we all eat things like kimchi or soy sauce so we're looking at how we can make that broader in its range - more appealing and more authentic."

Customer surveys and observations at the Albany branch had revealed several key points.

In the evenings, 90 per cent of shoppers were Asian - linked to a cultural habit of shopping later.

Staffing rosters and product availability had changed with Mandarin-speaking staff always on the floor during this time and the in-store butcher staying later in case customers wanted particular cuts of meat. The seafood section also had fish available much later in the day.

"Sales of specific items, for example fish are changing - we're selling whole fish now as opposed to just fillets so catering for certain markets," Ngan Kee said.

"The feedback we're getting from our surveys is that consumers are happy, they feel they're in a comfortable, familiar environment, particularly if English is not their first language and we're working hard at creating that environment."

Pak'nSave had been aggressive in its pricing of rice and other staple products for the Asian and Indian community, and were offering bulk bags such as 25kg bags of rice.

Cultural festivals were noted so stores could stock up on particular items likely to be popular. "We know from our surveys that many of these ethnic groups buying from our stores also buy from other outlets so there are other food stuffs that haven't been purchased in our outlets and the question is why," Ngan Kee said.