12 Questions: Bruce Sheppard

By Sarah Stuart

Bruce Sheppard says wealth for him is freedom to choose. Photo / Richard Robinson
Bruce Sheppard says wealth for him is freedom to choose. Photo / Richard Robinson

Shareholders Association founder and Financial Markets Authority member Bruce Sheppard rarely worries about what he says - or wears for that matter. The answers below, he stresses, are all his own - and do not reflect the views of any other organisation.

1. How do you think the defamation action against you by Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson will play out this year and are you looking forward to it?

It is before the courts and in fairness it is not my fight, it is the plaintiffs'. So it is what it is.

2. Who taught you to fight?

I am not sure that I fight as such, more like I struggle. Struggle against rules, struggle against the status quo, struggle against those in positions of privilege and power, with or without success. Some would say it is a character flaw. But if anyone taught me this it was my parents, both of whom struggled and had hard lives.

3. Why did you become an accountant?

As a teenager I wanted to be a chef. I managed not to do too well at what is now NCEA level one. So I had to change subjects, cold turkey, and I chose economics, history and accounting, all of which I found I loved and which are surprisingly intertwined. Because I loved it I was instantly good at it. Dad also said better to be a bean counter than a bean cook - or maybe he said it was better to cook the books than cook vegetables.

4. Your KiwiSaver opposition still baffles some people. Would you rather we all just put it in the bank?

My opposition is mostly philosophical, in that I prefer people to be connected to their wealth and take responsibility for it rather than paying a manager to do it for them.

But if you calculate the internal rate of return for a KiwiSaver over the life of the product, the rate of return is worse the longer you are in. It gets close to the mortgage rate on most assumptions the younger you are, so if you are young and you have a mortgage, don't be a KiwiSaver. If you already are, take a holiday until your mortgage is paid off.

5. You share a cousin of Lockwood Smith. Seen him at any family reunions?

Yes, Lockwood and I share a second cousin, Mavis Smith, descended from my grandfather's sister. We last caught up at her 100th birthday around two years ago. She is still trucking on. I wonder if there is something in the water of Matakohe, a very small Northland settlement that has produced a Prime Minister (Gordon Coates), a Speaker of the House (Lockwood) and a centenarian that looks like she will go another century.

6. Who taught you cynicism?

Better question would be what, and that is simple - time and experience. Not much is what it seems, and the world has been spun to hopelessly complex levels for what appear to be very limited useful outcomes. By being sceptical I aim to peel away the nonsense of issues and look for the beauty within. Sometimes the inner evil is so great that I have to shout loudly, using colourful language or costumes. In a world of mass media it is easy to be drowned out.

7. Will you retire a wealthy man?

Wealth for me is freedom to choose - freedom to work or not, freedom to spend or not. Thus wealth is both relative and a mindset. I have had this freedom for some time. I do what I do because I want to, not because I have to.

8. How would you change New Zealand?

The main thing that needs to change in New Zealand is the culture of entitlement - both those at board and senior management level who believe they are entitled to enormous rewards and the useless tossers at the bottom who expect handouts.

9. You are often spotted riding your pushbike places - are you a closet greenie?

I ride a bike because it makes economic sense - I'm saving parking, petrol and gym fee costs. I'm up $7k a year.

Global warming seems to me to be the latest con to scare the population into worrying for no particular purpose. The biggest problem with Mother Earth is consumerism and population growth.

10. You seem to have blamed the housing boom on women wanting bigger houses - isn't that more about men showing off to each other?

It is actually biology. Women want to mate with the best darn male specimen that will produce the best darn kids. Ten thousand years ago that was the biggest, strongest hunk, now it is the guy who has the biggest wallet. Today it is the biggest house, in the 1960s it was cars. Men want to have the biggest fan of peacock feathers to attract the best peahen. Now, of course, career women have money so they don't need the men for that, so back we go 10,000 years. In 25 years, guys, you will all have to be hunks to get partners to breed with and women will all be 10 years older than you.

11. How would you like to be remembered? Nutter? World's most unlikely accountant? Champion of the stupid? (To paraphrase yourself and others).

In societies there are leaders and followers. Leaders have a duty to followers (who are not the stupid) to behave with decency to their fellow traveller. I would like to be remembered for attempting to move the moral compass of the leaders in our society.

12. Are you your own worst enemy?

Probably.

- NZ Herald

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