Antonia Watson is the chief executive of ANZ New Zealand - the country's largest bank.
How would you describe 2020 for your business?
2020 was a year no business hoped would happen, but all had to be ready for. It put our people and our systems to the test, and adaptability and good judgment became more important qualities than ever. Looking back, the one thing that characterises the year for me was how our people responded. Faced with uncertainties of their own, they decamped to their kitchen tables and began an epic exercise in helping so many of our customers in serious need. It was something to behold, and I'm so grateful to them all. It's tempting to say 2020 was a year we don't want to remember, but in fact it's a year we shouldn't forget.
How do you think the Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis?
I don't think anybody would envy the Government when the crisis hit. As has been said so often, the crisis was unprecedented so there was no handbook to tell them how it would play out, or what decisions to make. No strategy is without its downsides and sacrifices, but I think the Government made the best decisions based on the best information they had. As a result of that New Zealand's response was among the world's best. The Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and other ministers were in regular touch with us to see how we were functioning and to hear first-hand how people and businesses were faring in the real economy.
What are two key things the Government should do for economic recovery?
Short term – not be afraid to allow skilled migrants into the country and to welcome foreign investment that helps transfer knowledge and capability to the economy. We have a short window to take advantage of our Covid-free status now that vaccines are being rolled out. Long term – help rejuvenate the global trading system and its institutions like the WTO. As a small trading nation New Zealand's future prosperity is dependent on fair and functioning global trading arrangements.
How is your business planning to tackle 2021?
It'll be a different world post-Covid-19, and it would be a mistake to assume it'll be business as usual. I want us to be receptive to the changes that have happened, to follow what our customers are telling us are their new priorities, and to be bold in breaking from convention when it's the right thing to do.
What will be the major challenges and/or opportunities for your industry?
The immediate challenge will be to work with the Government and regulators to ensure there is balance in the housing market. It's in everyone's interests for residential property prices to be sustainable long term, and for home ownership to be accessible to as many Kiwis as possible. Helping businesses recover from Covid-19 and to take advantage of the opportunities that will open up will be another priority, as will continuing to give people more digital options so they can have greater control over their finances. Covid-19 showed the importance of good money management, so improving financial well-being should continue to be a major imperative across the industry.
What was the most interesting non-Covid story of 2020?
The US presidential election and the death of George Floyd which sparked the Black Lives Matter protests internationally and raised the issue of racism in our societies. The most heart-warming one was about Captain Tom, the elderly British veteran who fundraised for the NHS and reminded us all about community service.
Where are you holidaying this summer?
I'll be heading to our small farm up north to grub thistles and get rid of gorse. We also have a few days boating in the Hauraki Gulf. But I will also make sure I carve out time to catch up on my non-banking reading.
What are your predictions for 2021?
Having learned lessons in adaptability and resilience during Covid-19, Kiwi businesses will come surging back and enjoy strong performance.
Record numbers of Kiwis travelling overseas at the end of the year.
As more people work from home, new businesses will pop up in suburbs and regions and more Kiwis will start their own businesses.
Having come through the pandemic people will be more thoughtful about their interactions with each other and, hopefully, be kinder.