He's the international Kiwi banking consultant, who became an unlikely public figure. Peter Nicholl overhauled Bosnia's entire banking system after the war, and became lauded for his signature on more than just banknotes.

Rugged up in a coat, thicker than a feather duvet, he had only a second's warning before being swamped.

Like sea swells around a ship's prow, Nicholl was awash with recurring applause.

A VIP guest at an international rugby game in wintry Sarajevo, the Kiwi banker was welcomed over a loudspeaker, and lauded like an All Black.


He recalls the memory fondly, and slightly disbelieving.

When embarking on a career in banking, never in his wildest dreams did he imagine his signature would feature on Bosnian banknotes, or he'd be stopped in the street and praised by strangers.

The ministry-appointed Bay of Plenty District Health Board member was once governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina - a role that made him famous over there.

He held the title from 1997-2004, and arrived to find the central bank split in three.

There were four currencies in use, and three payment systems.

"They'd had a period of hyperinflation. They had banknotes with 13 zeros on them. The daily inflation rate was 37 per cent - a day!" he laments.

"They had been through every type of instability you could imagine, and they didn't trust their institutions for good reasons."

Nicholl, who looks the quintessential decision maker, with two Biro pens poking out of his blazer pocket, has you hanging on every word.


At age 73 he's not ready to retire (he has a working trip to Kosovo in March), and has the knack of explaining economics in non-economics terms.

Over a glass of sauvignon blanc, his blue eyes twinkle, as he amusingly places one hand to the side of his face when saying anything contentious.

This grandad of six became Bosnia's banking superhero, and did it in true Kiwi style with a bit of a DIY approach.

Even today, the central bank is one of the few institutions in Bosnia that works normally.

He started his banking career at age 27, and was the first in his Waikato farming family to attend university.

Peter Nicholl reflects on his banking career.
Peter Nicholl reflects on his banking career.

He worked for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand for 22 years, including a role as deputy governor. He then took up a two-year role as executive director with the World Bank Group in Washington DC, representing 12 countries.

At the end of his tenure, he was asked if he'd go to Bosnia, being deemed "neutral" coming from New Zealand.

He was appointed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but also had to get the green light from Bosnia's three presidents, in three separate meetings.

"I mean, they have three of everything!," he quips.

They had 76 banks to 4.5 million people. Sixteen houses of parliament and 167 ministers at different levels.

"Before I went, somebody told me there were only three or four good restaurants in Sarajevo, but if I went into one, and said: 'Good evening, Minister', half the people would respond."

He thought it was a joke. It wasn't.

"That was the structure they set up under the Dayton Peace Agreement. It succeeded in stopping the war, but it's a lousy way of running a country."

All he knew about Bosnia before flying in, was what he'd seen on the telly.

Sarajevo's airport was basically a shed, and his workplace, the central bank building - a big old Austro-Hungarian structure - had mortar holes on the outside, and bullet holes in the walls of the boardroom.

He felt safe though, and declined a private security guard.

He worked with three local vice-governors – one Bosniak, one Croat and one Serb. Only one of the vice-governors spoke English at first, so he relied heavily on his translator and press officer.

He tells the story of giving evidence in a court case and the court had its own interpreter.

After a while his own interpreter approached Nicholl to tell him that the court appointee was not interpreting what he was saying correctly. The defendants, three former staffers, were facing prison time depending on his testimony.

He was granted citizenship in his sixth year to enable him to stay on longer, and in a special story in itself, citizenship enabled him and wife Glynyss to adopt a baby girl, Lily, at one day old.

Nicholl, who wears a gold ring from a Sarajevo artisan, also has three children from his first marriage.

While caring for a newborn, and running a central bank, the Nicholls adopted a Dalmatian, Ziggy, and Glynyss established her own restaurant, Seasons.

The couple also jointly worked to design the Bosnian currency, which had involved months of arguing among board members.

"Finally, I said I'm not discussing this anymore, I'm going to design it myself."

Using the names of Bosnian writers, Peter and Glynyss asked French printing experts to design mock-ups of the banknotes, and eventually it was agreed that they should bear Nicholl's signature.

"I'd been involved in the redesign of the New Zealand bank notes, when we took the Queen off, so I'd been through the process."

After leaving Bosnia, the family lived in Italy for seven years, before returning to New Zealand in 2015. Nicholl has visited 70 central banks during his career, and worked in about 20.

"I enjoy it, I get involved in all sorts of interesting issues but I'm not responsible for them."

Peter Nicholl put his signature on eight different banknotes.
Peter Nicholl put his signature on eight different banknotes.

He is the only banker in New Zealand to have both Kiwi and eastern European experience, and now works part-time as an international consultant.

"If you go up through a big central bank, you're an expert in a very narrow field. Whereas I'd seen a little bit of everything [at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand]. So, when I ended up in Bosnia, and starting a new institution, nothing really took me by surprise. I didn't know all the answers, but I understood all the questions, and knew where to find the answers."

He emulated many of the sensible operating structures from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand "and low and behold they worked".

It was long hours - up to 70 a week - and problems could, and would, arise at any time.

"For three years, we virtually didn't leave Sarajevo because I wasn't prepared to go that far away from the place."

Three years into his tenure, he returned home for a holiday, and asked not to be contacted. It gave staff a chance to run the central bank without him, and get used to working cohesively.

When not agonising over facts and figures, he relaxes by strumming a guitar - he regrets never having played in a band. He goes to the theatre, reads, watches live sport - rugby is his favourite - and enjoys dinner parties.

He's been back to Bosnia since he left, and wouldn't hesitate working there again. In 20 years, he's just one of three governors they've had.

He raised the profile of the central bank and historically helped change the morale of an entire country. Previously, most citizens had saved by putting a Deutschmark bank note under their mattresses, believing it to be safer than putting in a bank.

"People would come up to me in the street or sitting in a restaurant and say: 'Mr Nicholl, we just want to thank you for giving us low inflation and a stable exchange rate, you have no idea how important it was.' So the politicians were never quite sure, but the citizens were."

He was awarded a QSM in 2006 for his services in Bosnia, and says it's on his bucket list to write a book. He's collected 60 notebooks of handwritten musings.

When asked to muse on Kiwi economics, he says New Zealand is in good shape. However, with world debt, and the way that house prices have skyrocketed, he believes risk of a financial collapse still exists.

This is largely thanks to a hangover from the last financial crisis. Large central banks made some major blunders, he reckons.

In terms of financial tips, he urges cautiousness.

"One of the things I'm working on in Kosovo is what they should do about the cryptocurrency craze and bitcoins."

However, here in New Zealand, we're "reasonably" well-educated and sound, compared with what he's seen around the world.

"In New Zealand everything is pretty stable. The only thing that isn't stable, is the ground.''