Summer questions: ASB CEO Vittoria Shortt says NZ needs a plan beyond Covid

How would you describe 2021 for your business?

A year that has required a continued focus on the wellbeing of our people, our customers and our communities. Ensuring we could support them financially, physically and mentally as Covid and its variants changed our lives once more.

How is your business planning to tackle 2022?

With a relentless focus on supporting and developing our people and delivering for our customers. Like many other businesses, ASB is facing the very real challenge of finding, retaining and developing our people. Our people make the difference at ASB so with closed borders, increasing demand for limited skills and the challenges of remaining connected over video, we are getting more creative around how we think about our talent – and that is a good thing!

What will be the major challenges and/or opportunities for your industry?

Macro challenges include housing, climate change and cyber safety, while household level challenges include a higher interest rate environment and inflation.The big opportunities are addressing the challenges above and continuing to find innovative ways to help New Zealanders into homes and improving New Zealanders’ financial wellbeing.

How do you think the Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis?

So far, generally well. We have had a very low death rate and a strong economy. However, Covid-19 has required compromise and for many this has come at a very real cost.

What are two key things the Government should do for economic recovery?

Provide structure and clarity to the business community about what to expect in the coming months. Businesses need more certainty to plan and operate, including workforce management.

A plan for the country beyond Covid.Identifying our future economic drivers and the investments we need to make to build capability and ensure New Zealand’s ongoing success. One area that comes to mind is the digital economy and how we can make the most of this opportunity while ensuring Kiwis’ identity and data remains protected.

What was the most interesting non-Covid story of 2021?

One story that stuck with me this year was about women and their retirement savings. ASB’s May 2021 financial data from more than half a million ASB personal banking customers showed despite saving more, women’s KiwiSaver balances are 12 per cent lower at retirement. It is due to lower pay and less appetite for risk. These results have reinforced once more the reality of the gender divide and that there is still so much to do to help address it.

What are your predictions for 2022?

I remember listening to an expert last year who predicted Covid would be a five-year challenge. At the time I thought that was extreme.Fast forward to today and it feels more realistic. I expect 2022 will be another bumpy ride but with some positive signs as our vaccination rates help us move to more normal settings.

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made in business?

People are at the heart of every successful business – so everything starts with making sure you have the right people in the right roles and they are set up for success.With a large business, from time-to-time there will always be something that goes wrong – that’s when values and your culture kick in to do the right thing, learn, fix and move forward.

What would you rate as your greatest success in business?

My greatest success in business is always about people, having a talented team working together towards a purpose that we really care about. I feel very proud of our ASB team, particularly over the past two years, as we have come together to deliver for our people, customers and community.

Where are you holidaying this summer?

We will spend our time between Auckland and Wanaka where our families are. We’re very much looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family and getting some normality back. I am looking forward to unwinding, mountain biking, hiking and reading. I am sure Kiwis across the country are feeling the same.

How has the media reported Covid and what’s your view of the Fourth Estate?

The media landscape has changed a lot with social media and real time news streamed by anyone with a smart phone.While media must continue to frame the debate and challenge, it must be scrupulous in reporting reliable science-based sources that can be trusted.

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