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IT DIDN'T take long for Suzanne Edmonds to get stirred up. She had settled back on to her comfortable lounge at her Matua home for a "cosy" interview.
She was surprised but chuffed that I wanted to talk to her about her colourful life. Mainly because over the past two decades or so, she's worried about other people more than herself.
When it came to the inevitable question about the collapse of the finance companies and her subsequent campaign, the pleasantries were well and truly over.
She bounced off the sofa, paced the room and then pointed out over her deck to a well-kept house in this well-off Tauranga suburb.
"They've lost thousands of dollars, and I don't know whether they can keep their home," she said, in her laid-back delivery. Suzanne hides her emotion well.
But she's heard that plight too many times. She has become "the voice" for the many investors who have lost hard-earned savings in the dramatic fall of the finance companies, nearly 50 of them, over the past three years.
So what drives Suzanne, the co-ordinator and spokesperson for EUFA Inc (Exposing Unacceptable Financial Activities)?
"I ask myself that every day," she said. "It started small and just got bigger and bigger. Something pops up every day that I have to deal with because I'm committed to guiding people.
"I'm a doer, not a helper. And the suffering of people makes me see red. For some reason some of the saddest stories come out of Tauranga, I don't know why."
EUFA, established in September 2007, started as a support group and quickly became a lobby organisation, defending the rights of the investors, and questioning the actions of the finance company directors and the response from the regulatory authorities.
The investors were deceived, plain and simple, said Suzanne.
"They were looking for safety. They went to professionals for advice or they looked at the advertising for the best product. But the advertising was deceiving, and many of those professionals had the incentive of selling products based on commissions. Some of them were even deceived by the finance companies.
"The tragedy of it is that the investors knew not to put all their eggs in one basket. They thought that spreading their investments across a range of finance companies was the right thing to do. They weren't greedy and they weren't stupid - whoever says that is ill-informed or they have a hidden agenda.
"They knew about the (earlier) sharemarket crash and they thought the finance industry would be transparent and well governed - no different to dentists or doctors. You don't go to a dentist, get a crown put on and expect to have rot underneath it," Suzanne said.
She claims that the authorities such as the Securities Commission and the Commerce Commission didn't do their job properly and warn the investors strongly enough, particularly after the Bridgecorp collapse. "Why haven't the regulators enforced the Crimes Act? Street crime is visual but white collar crime happens behind the glossy surface, and just seems to be swept away.
"The Securities Commission calls themselves the watchdog, but they are in the dog box, if you ask me."
Over the past three years, EUFA - Suzanne's brother, Southland farmer Gray Eatwell is also a member - have pulled together information and case studies from thousands of investors. "They load the bullets and we fire them," Suzanne said.
She estimates that 150,000 investors have been affected by the finance collapses, amounting to millions of dollars - and 10 per cent of them come from Tauranga.
During the three tumultuous years, Suzanne has carried on as the face of EUFA, being unpaid. It was time to start thinking about herself.
She returned to Tauranga last June and by the end of the year she had bought one of Tauranga's leading restaurants, RSVP in Cherrywood, in partnership with long-time friend, Patricia Annabell, who had a McDonald's franchise in Gisborne.
They spruced up the restaurant, put tablecloths on the tables, and retained the head chef Klintin Groucott, who sneaked in a couple of his favourites on the new menu - special salmon and veal dishes. "We were two ladies over the age of 50 ... and we thought we would go and do this. It's worked out fine; the restaurant and the customers are lovely."
Suzanne and Patricia work the front of house on a rotation of four days on and four days off.
On cue, they have provided a special for the senior citizens, producing a roast and desert on Mondays and Tuesdays for $19.90 - as long as they produce a gold card.
Children up to 12 years are free when they dine with their families on Wednesdays and Sundays.
"We've made it affordable," said Suzanne, no doubt thinking of all those investors who were placing their money for a comfortable retirement.
Suzanne's campaign really started in 1989 when she was the first manager of Tauranga Age Concern. She was approached by elderly investors who had lost money through an H&R Block sales agent - he was found guilty of fraud.
Outraged, Suzanne wrote to the founder in the United States, Henry Block, and he sent a cheque for more than NZ$2 million, repaying the affected clients a large slice of their investments.
"It was fantastic. It came to me during the middle of the night. I was young and bulletproof; someone had stolen their money and I wrote to the head shebang."
During her time in Tauranga, Suzanne opened her home for five special-needs people, aged between 21 and 50, and each day they headed off to Avalon Incorporated in Te Puna.
"They loved every minute there; they didn't have any worries and they teach you what is real and not real. It was one of the best times," he said.
Suzanne re-married in 2003 and moved to Hamilton, then Dunedin and Auckland with her husband, Keith. She mixed a dispute-resolution business with managing dentistry practices.
In Auckland, she was approached by an elderly couple who had sold their house and "parked" their money in an AMP fund.
They were advised to do this by their insurance adviser of 20 years, but it was high risk and they lost their investment.
It turned out that 80 people were hit by the adviser and Suzanne formed a support group. Soon after, Bridgecorp went into receivership, and she formed EUFA with Wellington investor Jim McSoriley. It attracted publicity.
"The media made it happen after people started providing us with screeds of information. It came about through word of mouth," she said.
"I went from being a Tauranga support group to a nationwide collection of people who had lost money through all the deception. I stopped working at the dentist's and went full-time with EUFA."
The "abused" investors needed a champion and Suzanne couldn't resist.
Over the past three years, she has provided the regulators and government with plenty of information and case studies, imploring them to get tougher.
Deep down she knows "there's a part of me that wonders whether we are going to get anywhere, even though I know we have been heard."
She's not about to give up, but she does has a restaurant in Cherrywood to worry about.