Fiona Mackenzie bought her first shares at age 15, but it wasn't until she moved to New York to work for a Wall Street bank that her passion for investing really took off.

Now she has taken on the job of revamping Direct Broking - the trading platform which First New Zealand Capital (FNZC) has acquired from the ANZ Bank.

It will be the first time FNZC has entered the mass market for direct investment, expanding on its traditional focus, which has been corporates wanting to raise capital and wealthy individuals.

And Mackenzie sees young people as the key to the trading platform's expansion prospects.


"Short term, our first stage is really around improving the offering for existing clients," she says.

"Then parallel to that we'll start building out what the solution is for the other sorts of client cohorts.

"Those clients may be 20- or 30-somethings who've never invested but are really really keen to learn.

"We genuinely believe everybody can invest for themselves, but depending on where you are on the learning spectrum, you might need more digital tools to get you more comfortable, or you might just need help with execution."

Self-directed investment has taken off overseas, but New Zealanders have been slow to get on the DIY bandwagon.

Research by the NZX and Sharesies released this year found just one in five Kiwis own shares directly, compared to two in five Australians and half of Americans.

MacKenzie believes the lack of a good platform for share investing has been part of the problem and points to Britain, the US and Australia as places where direct investing has taken off in recent years.

"What's happened in the last 10-15 years is this massive move into digital tools. And, for whatever reason, New Zealand has completely missed that wave," she says.

"We got a little sniff of the wave in the late 90's and then for whatever reason it hasn't evolved.

"There's definitely stuff starting to bubble away in New Zealand now, which is great, but there's nothing that gives you the complete solution in terms of creating and achieving your investment goals. So, I think that's a large part of it."

She also points a finger at New Zealanders' obsession with the 1987 sharemarket crash.

"New Zealand's the only market I've worked in where in October every year, somebody's says its X number of years since the 87 crash.

"People's experience during 87 was genuinely a bad one, but the GFC was huge; the dotcom meltdown in the early 2000's was huge and you know, we had the crisis in the late 90's as well.

"So for whatever reason, I think New Zealanders have been a little bit warier about shares."

But Mackenzie believes that is changing, and she points to KiwiSaver as being one of the reasons why.

"People are actually suddenly getting the idea that shares - they're never going to be risk free - but if you appropriately diversify your portfolio and take a long-term approach, it's a way to get growth.

"And if you're a 20-something right now, feeling locked out of the real estate market, then actually growth assets like shares, that's exactly where you should be as part of your portfolio."

It was having a 401k - America's equivalent to KiwiSaver - that got Mackenzie interested in share investing again, after the initial push from her father in her teens.

"It didn't quite grab me until I started working in New York actually in the 90's.

"In the States, they have 401ks which are similar to our KiwiSaver. I just think those automatic systems are a great way to get people in early and then they feel like it grows and people then start to go, 'well, that's actually a real number'."

Despite growing up in a family where finances were part of the conversation, Mackenzie says her 20s were more about travelling and experiences rather than saving and investing.

Born in Australia, she moved to Auckland as a child and then the United Kingdom as a teenager before coming back to New Zealand.

It was her father's work as an executive for Formica which saw the family move around so much.

"Getting moved internationally as a teenager, that was not my most [favourite ] childhood memory, and then two years later being told, 'Right, now we're going back'. I was like, 'You're kidding me, right?'

"Short term it can be a bit challenging, but in the long term it definitely helped bring me out of being quite a shy teenager and a more resilient, able to get on with it kind of person."

She decided to study law at Otago University, following in the footsteps of other family members.

But after a summer internship at a law firm, Mackenzie soon figured out that being a lawyer was not for her and branched out into accounting with a conjoint degree in commerce.

She graduated in the 1990s during a tough patch in the job market but managed to get on the Deloitte internship programme.

"Deloitte used to have this great programme which was a two-year graduate programme and you would rotate across the different parts of the firm."

She ended up specialising in corporate tax - using a combination of her law and accounting qualifications. After a few years with the firm, Mackenzie decided it was time to get back into travelling again.

"I knew I wanted to get back overseas as soon as possible. I was really disappointed with my parents at 16, saying: 'Right, we're heading back to New Zealand', I was not impressed at all. So, the plan always was to get back overseas. It was just a matter of getting through the degree, getting that three years' experience, so I wasn't heading over completely green."

Mackenzie worked for financial firms in London before ending up at Credit Suisse, which then offered her the chance to work in their New York office.

"The move to New York was pure luck. Credit Suisse was looking for somebody with specific back office project skills, which I had. They offered me six months and an apartment with flights paid for, living in New York.

"That's when I had quite a healthy shoe habit, so that was just a total no-brainer."

She didn't know anyone in New York, but says her time at Otago gave her the confidence to just get out and meet people.

Then, within a couple of months of arriving at Credit Suisse, she met a fellow Kiwi who knew the people who were building a new business within the company and he introduced her to them.

"That's when it became a permanent role, so it went from 6 months to 8 years in New York."

In 2009 she came back to New Zealand, driven by fallout from the global financial crisis and an unexpected surprise.

"It was a combination of two things. I chose to have my twins by myself, so I'm a single mother by choice.

"The twins weren't planned, though, so when I saw the two heartbeats on the ultrasound there was a little bit of an 'oh my God,' moment.

"In my mind, I could manage single motherhood and my Wall Street career with one baby in the United States. Even I'm realistic enough to realise that two babies was just getting into parallel universe stuff, so that was part of it."

The other part was the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008, which kicked off the global financial crisis.

"That really caused me to question how I was going to manage with my career. It really did feel like the universe was saying, 'okay, it's time to head home.'

She came back to New Zealand with six-month-old twins in tow and spent the next six weeks networking before landing a newly created role at the NZX under former chief executive Mark Weldon.

After two years she was approached to become head of investment at the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, where she worked before moving to FNZC in February.

Mackenzie now has her sights set firmly on building up the direct investment business and has already talked to more than 200 clients about what they want.

"I enjoy it, because of the insights you get from talking to clients about their investments.

"I had a 25-year-old woman who wanted to talk through the terms and conditions. She said: 'I received this 29-page doc ... and I really want to understand this,' and I said, 'Honestly, I'm so excited to talk to you, because I'd love more people to actually be engaging in their financial destiny'."

Fiona Mackenzie
Job: Head of direct wealth, First NZ Capital.
Family: Has a partner and 10-year-old twins.
Education: Masters of Business Administration from Columbia Graduate School of Business (New York); and BCom (Accounting) / LLB from Otago University.
Career: Joined FNZC in 2018 from the NZ Superannuation Fund, where she was head of external investments and partnerships for six years. Before that she worked at the NZX as head of markets after retuning from working overseas with Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Last movie watched: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Last book read: AIQ.
Last overseas holiday: Singapore with the twins to see her best friend from New York days.