By MATHEW DEARNALEY
Asian immigrants are being invited to bring positive energy - with their money - into an Auckland bank branch designed to cater to their cultural needs.
Their energy is supposedly channelled to all the right places inside the ANZ Bank's new branch in Queen St, past miniature Chinese jade "money" trees at the entrance right to the tellers' counters at the rear.
Staff speak four Asian languages as well as English.
All design details have been worked out by an expert in feng shui, described as the ancient art of placement.
Larger-than-normal interview rooms are provided for customers, because the bank has found that finance is a family affair for many Asians, and parents will often bring their children along to learn about a subject sometimes considered taboo in European households.
Colours, furniture and even piped baroque music are prescribed in detail by Feng Shui Institute director Mai'a Martin.
Mai'a Martin, a New Zealander, describes her work as environmental acupuncture, channelling beneficial energy through meridians in the space around us.
She says many large Asian banks and other businesses have used feng shui to improve their business and harmony within the business world.
"The object is to make you feel comfortable, and when you feel comfortable you are more likely to do business," says the Hawkes Bay woman, who has studied feng shui in China and Australia.
But the Skeptics Society is unconvinced. Spokesman Denis Dutton said many Chinese "laugh at the gullibility of New Zealanders for buying into their superstitions".
Dr Dutton, a Canterbury University philosopher, accepted that obeisance to cultural sensitivities was part of doing business.
But he guffawed at a claim that installing a tank with nine fish, eight of them red and the other one black, would help to rectify an energy imbalance caused by a biscuit shop next door eating into the bank branch's spatial symmetry.
Mai'a Martin was annoyed that the Herald had sought to inject "negative energy" into the discussion by approaching the Skeptics Society, and said she felt no need to explain herself to that group.
But she said nine was a generally auspicious number for Chinese people, and eight was believed to bring luck with money.
She was dismayed to hear that the bank intended painting a big dragon mural on the wall next to the fish tank.
She said Chinese did not like dragons inside buildings and that was not her recommendation.
A bank spokesman said that this was a misunderstanding, and it would paint a large abacus symbol on the wall instead.
ANZ Auckland district manager Nesan Naidoo said the bank had canvassed many of its customers to ensure Mai'a Martin's recommendations were consistent with their expectations.
He said the branch had also received a Maori blessing at a tapu-lifting ceremony.