NZ banks need to stay on top of problems — but they’re not like the Aussies, Bankers’ Association boss tells Tamsyn Parker.

Ten or 15 years ago, says Roger Beaumont, people would have laughed at the idea of him being part of the banking industry.

The former journalist was very much a media man, working in radio, at TVNZ and then a long stint at TV3 owner MediaWorks.

But after seven years of working inside the banks - mainly as head of marketing and communications at the ASB - he is a passionate convert.

Now Beaumont has become the top cheerleader for the banking industry, in his new role as chief executive of the New Zealand Bankers' Association.

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"I really love the banking industry, which if you knew me 10 or 15 years ago you would probably laugh," he says.

"The bulk of my career prior to banking has been the media and surprisingly there are lots of similarities."

Beaumont, who has been the association's CEO for just four weeks, says he was drawn to the role because banking touches on everyone's lives, is complex and challenging and because of its competitive nature.

"In some ways banking is very simple - you get money in and you lend money out but obviously that is a very superficial way of looking at it.

"Having worked behind the scenes inside banks, I certainly have an appreciation of the complexity inside the business which I wouldn't have, had I done this job without having done that."

But these aren't the easiest of times to be polishing the image of an industry which has come under fire from regulators, governments and the public in the past year.

A damning report on Australia's Royal Commission into misconduct in the financial services sector was released this month, and next month banks in this country have to respond to demands from local regulators to lift their game.

Last year the Royal Commission exposed shocking stories of fees paid for no service, institutions lying to the regulator, fees charged to dead people and banks making mistakes, then taking years to fix them and compensate customers.

All that prompted New Zealand's Financial Markets Authority and the Reserve Bank to take a closer look at banks here, including the four Australian-owned majors: ANZ, ASB, BNZ and Westpac.

In October the regulators produced a report which found "significant weaknesses" in the way New Zealand banks govern and manage conduct risk, and called for change.

The New Zealand Government has told the banks they are "on notice " and must do more to ensure that consumers' rights are protected.

Beaumont says he has come into the role with his eyes wide open.

"I had a front row seat to the Royal Commission in the role that I was in at Westpac and I guess part of the appeal of the role here was having seen what was going on there - recognising that actually the two markets are very different."

While New Zealand's big four banks are all owned by Australian banks, Beaumont is quick to point out that New Zealand has a separate regulatory regime and those banks have independent local boards.

"We are a different market and we do have a whole range of differences to the Australian banking industry in terms of the way we operate here."

He says banks here have a simpler product range and one of the biggest differences is the scale of their operations.

"If you think about the Australian banks, their head count ranges between 40,000 to 50,000 people - that is like all of Nelson working for one company. It is almost incomprehensible."

He says one big Australian bank can have 30,000 calls to its call centre in one day, while in New Zealand a big bank can get about 5000 calls.

"I think what that scale difference means is that it is much harder to get lost in the system here.

"I think here, even though our banks are substantial ... if somebody has a problem there is a stronger likelihood of that being picked up on because: one, there are processes in place to deal with it; two, if you are not satisfied with how it is progressing, there are other systems like the Banking Ombudsman or you are likely to know someone that knows someone that works for that bank who can help intervene for you.

"I think the stories that are problematic see the light of day much more quickly here and that is a really good thing."

But, Beaumont says, that is not to say the industry here should or can be complacent.

"Frankly, I think the Royal Commission is this big alarm bell for us in New Zealand. That's to say, let's make sure it never gets to that.

"I don't think we can assume that everything will continue to be fine. We have got to work as an industry proactively to make sure we get in front of issues and that if we do identify an issue that we remediate on it and do the right thing by customers and I think every banker in NZ would want to do that."

Beaumont believes that keeping a close eye on complaints will also be key.

"I think the other thing we can look at, to make sure we do remain trusted partners with customers, is to keep a really close eye on complaints.

"If six people have made a complaint about the same thing there is possibly some underlying issue that needs to be investigated."

Beaumont himself marks a change for the industry body, having come from a media and marketing background.

Its previous chief executives have all had a legal background, and much of the association's role is to respond to the multiple regulatory changes that affect banking.

"There are two core strands of work NZBA does. One is in the regulatory side - preparing submissions. The other side is the stakeholder side - media relationships and the Government.

"Yes, historically there have been people who sit on legal side of the story; I sit on the other side."

Christchurch born and bred, Beaumont was the youngest of four brothers, with a grocer father and a stay-at-home mother.

He moved to Wellington at 18 to train as a journalist and was then sent to the provinces to work in radio at Palmerston North.

A few years later he moved north to Auckland and worked for radio stations Hauraki and 91FM before moving into promotions and marketing.

Beaumont made the shift to TVNZ as it was preparing for the commercial arrival of TV3 and then went consulting for a public relations firm.

During that time he got his first taste of banking, with ASB as a major client, and where he met Barbara Chapman, then the bank's marketing manager, before she went on to become its chief executive before retiring last year.

"I have never been one of those people who has had the 10- and 15-year career plan. I have just loved what I have been doing when doing it and have been fortunate to have opportunities pop up along the way."

Now he has the opportunity to be the industry's frontman, he sees his biggest challenge this year as turning the narrative around.

"I think the real opportunity for the banking industry in NZ is to tell our story better because I think there is a really good story to tell."

Roger Beaumont

Job: Chief executive, New Zealand Bankers' Association
Age: 52
Family: Married with three daughters
Career history: Previously group head of corporate affairs for Westpac in Australia for one year; spent six years as head of marketing and communications at ASB bank; 10 years at MediaWorks NZ as director of marketing and communications.
Last movie seen? Fahrenheit 11/9
Last overseas holiday? Hawaii
Last book read? Dark Sacred Night, by Michael Connelly