"The more things change, the more they stay the same".
The quote was originally from French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr; he served for a time as editor of Le Figaro and was known for his somewhat satirical take on life. Beautifully written in French, rather than English of course - "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".
A somewhat philosophical start.
For now at least, this will be my last column in the NZ Herald. I've loved writing for the team at the NZ Herald; it is always a privilege to have a voice and that's something I never take for granted.
The power of a 'voice'
This weekend, millions of New Zealanders will be out exercising their right to vote. Many of us have voted already, an accelerating trend from previous elections. At one point, legislation that prohibits campaigning on polling day might even catch up with the reality that election day actually started two weeks ago.
Regardless of political flavours, processes and outcomes – at least we, collectively, have a voice. And thanks to the good work of Kate Sheppard in the 1890's, we have exercised our voice as a truly inclusive democracy longer than anyone else.
Last week, I began work as the new chief executive of the New Zealand Shareholders' Association (NZSA). A big part of that role is to give a voice to the thousands of individual investors in New Zealand.
Just like our inclusive democracy, shareholders in our listed companies comprise people from all walks of life – from 19-year-old students starting to make their own way in the world in a Christchurch flat to company CEO's with personal helicopters in Herne Bay.
And just like our democracy, they too get a voice – shareholders have the right to vote on resolutions each year at a company's annual meeting, a process that the NZSA facilitates on behalf of retail investors.
There's another way shareholders' can 'vote', and that is by selling their shares. You don't like the new strategy unveiled by Company X? Do you feel ethically conflicted by companies who took the wage subsidy then paid a dividend?
As individuals, we can vote our cash to follow those companies who outperform the market and meet our own personal ethical and social standards.
As investors, we should exercise both those rights to influence the companies we are invested in – liquid markets and effective corporate governance standards are privileges that have been built from the lessons of the past.
The role the NZSA plays in creating 'one voice' for individual investors is the main reason I can't continue to write publicly in my own name; it simply wouldn't be right to maintain my 'personal voice' while advocating on behalf of individuals through the NZSA.
NZ Shareholders' Association, investors and me
Most adult New Zealanders, whether they realise it or not, are investors. Anyone who buys a house. Anyone who has a KiwiSaver account. Anyone who sets up a term deposit. They all represent choices about what we do with our hard-earned money and how it works for us to secure our future.
As Kiwis, we're 'late' on the journey of corporate investment. Some of that is cultural – Kiwis' relationship with money and financial wealth is almost apologetic in nature.
In practice, a fixation with property-centred investments, the fear created by the 1987 sharemarket crash and perceived barriers for ordinary Kiwis to invest in listed companies has meant that our per-capita investment is far lower than elsewhere (something I've commented on before).
That has to change.
Investing in New Zealand has often been associated with the privileged few. Those few who had cash to spare, who had access to company and market information, those who simply knew the processes of how to invest or find a broker.
In 2020, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The new breed of online platforms have made it easy and cost-effective to invest. While the 1987 sharemarket crash hit New Zealand and a whole generation of investors hard, it ensured a suite of effective governance, accounting and continuous disclosure rules that have served markets and investors well – including a steady flow of information to equity markets.
The challenge now is to improve the quality of information and research available to investors to help guide them in investment decisions.
Sometimes, Kiwis just are not that interested in managing their own investments – but the advent of KiwiSaver has improved the likelihood of long-term financial wellness for those individuals.
Individual choices are still important for KiwiSaver investors. Which type of fund do I invest in? Which fund offers the best value for me?
My own passions relate to improving the diversity of investors in New Zealand, supporting efficient and equitable markets and creating long-term wealth for New Zealanders by supporting great companies. Those passions are long-held, and I truly hope that readers of my articles can sense that in my writing.
Just like my column at the NZ Herald, my new role at the NZSA is a privilege. It allows me to give voice to my passions, build the tangible connections between stakeholders in the investment community (including listed companies) and encourage a whole lot of other people to secure their own future financial wellness.
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".
First off, I'm looking forward to my new role and making a real difference for individual investors in New Zealand. The NZSA supports EVERY investor – it doesn't matter how much you invest, where you live, how much money you earn…its for everyone.
I want to make sure that the NZSA maintains and enhances its role as the centre of retail investing for New Zealanders. The NZSA will continue to deliver services that are relevant for every type of individual investor and in a format that our members like to use and engage with.
That does mean some change – particularly in how NZSA engages with different types of individual investors and stakeholders. It's a challenge I'm looking forward to.
One last thing
A long time ago (well, 1997) a columnist for the Chicago Tribune (Mary Schmich) wrote a hypothetical speech, popularised by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann a couple of years later. Somewhat bizarrely, I still have a copy of the 'speech' sitting on my desk in my home office, the same copy I printed out in 1999!
It simply gives good advice – but is a salient reminder of how investors should carefully examine the advice they receive.
"Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth."
Remember that on your own investing journey. Or not.