Banks should be doing more to improve the financial health of New Zealanders, says the head of the Government's money education arm.

Last week, ANZ released a report on the Financial Wellbeing of New Zealanders which showed Kiwis scoring an average of 59 points out of 100.

While that score was on par with research by the ANZ out of Australia, it was behind similar research in Norway where the population had an average score of 77 points and Ireland which scored an average of 64 points.

Diane Maxwell, the Retirement Commissioner and head of the Commission for Financial Capability, said the ANZ report reflected its own research that having financial wellbeing was not just about earning more money.

Advertisement

"It isn't about having lots of cash. It's about being able to take the family out. Having a car that doesn't break down."

"It's if you received an additional bill still being okay."

The research found even those on a low income could have high financial wellbeing scores, while those on a high income had a range of scores.

Of those surveyed, 23 per cent had no worries, 40 per cent were doing okay, 24 per cent were getting by and 13 per cent were deemed to be struggling.

Maxwell said it had invested more resources into what it considered to be vulnerable New Zealanders.

She said one of the challenges with this group was self belief.

"We know from our work that some people have convinced themselves at the outset that they can't save."

The report showed that people's behaviour had a big impact on their wellbeing and the two biggest factors were saving and not going into debt to pay for everyday expenses.

"It is not just about income."

She cited the case of two friends who earned similar amounts. While one was mortgage free the other was in debt up to their eyeballs.

"It's all about their approach to today versus tomorrow."

"It comes back to regular savings and not using debt to pay for day-to-day expenses."

For those struggling it might not be realistic to have some money left over to save but for those in the middle 64 per cent (those doing okay and getting by) it was important, she said.

"For that group there is not much difference in income but there can be a wide difference in financial capability. It isn't an income issue."

She said banks could be doing more to help.

"My message to banks is financial capability is not something to annex out in a separate programme, it should be part of the daily interaction with customers."

"Banks collectively can build the financial capability of New Zealand by making every moment with customers count."

Maxwell said while that might sound "naff" it was true.

"Banks collectively cover almost 100 per cent of the adult population in New Zealand.

"I would encourage them to take up the challenge."

Asked what it would do with the findings of the research, ANZ's head of retail and business banking Antonia Watson said it had already switched its advertising approach to a focus on helping people to get on top of their money.

Watson said it also wanted to help narrow the gap between home-owners and renters.

Renters had an average financial wellbeing score of 49 compared to 59 points for home-owners.

"How can we help those 49 points to 59 points?"

She said buying a house was a journey and banks had a role to play in helping people get a house deposit together.

"It's not about someone saying 'here is my deposit'."

But she also said it could not touch everyone and more should be done in schools to help improve financial wellbeing.

"To improve New Zealanders' financial literacy we need to start with our kids at school. Learning the basics at a young age is important and financial education needs to be integrated into our curriculum."

Pushpa Wood, director of Massey University's Fin-Ed Centre, said there needed to be education of both school children and parents together.

And she said it needed to be more than a one-off course.

"A six-week programme is not sufficient," she said.

"There has to be built-in touch points at different stages of life."