Looking back at Diana’s decade

27 November 2012

When Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan was asked to take up the role 10 years ago, she had one question to the Minister of Social Development, Hon Steve Maharey.

“Can I change the name of the Retirement Commission?”

“I felt it didn’t accurately reflect the work that was being done and I’m really pleased the name is now the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income, even if it did take a long time to change it.”

Diana says that the office had recognised just prior to when she joined, that focusing solely on retirement income was not actually helping New Zealanders successfully plan for their retirement.

Sorted launched before I started, and my goal was to make as many New Zealanders aware of this fantastic resource as possible.

“Given the complexity of the issues and sector, it was clear we could not achieve what we wanted alone so I quickly began developing relationships with NGOs, private sector CEOs and other government departments with the idea of building an understanding of the concept of financial literacy and developing ways in which everyone could work together effectively.

“We established these relationships from scratch and put financial literacy on the map.  We’ve now developed some really solid relationships and the release of the National Strategy for Financial Literacy brought all this together,” she says.

One of Diana’s bolder statements came in 2004 when she called for financial literacy to be taught in every school by the time she left the Commission.

“We haven’t quite made it but I’m very proud of the work completed between 2004 and 2009 where we developed a learning framework and pilot for classrooms (funded by the banks of New Zealand).  Since then progress hasn’t been as fast as I’d have liked, but a new resource was launched last week, Taking Part in Economic Communities for including financial literacy in social science, which is another great step forward.

“More work is needed, especially finding funding for the professional development of teachers, so they are empowered to teach financial education. It’s essential we give our children the skills they will need when they leave school,” says Diana.

In her early days at the Commission, Diana saw the need to look at the bigger picture to find where the retirement income framework fitted into New Zealand’s wider economic goals.

“I worked with a broad range of people to develop an understanding of the components that help New Zealand (or any nation) support the financial wellbeing of its citizens.  It’s a complex picture that took time to develop but now we are in a better position to help New Zealanders.”

Diana has chaired two Retirement Income Policy Reviews and was involved in the introduction of KiwiSaver – a scheme that is looked on with interest from our international counterparts. 

“KiwiSaver is a different sort of pension scheme to what is the norm internationally.  As usual, New Zealand is thinking outside of the box, and it’s being noticed.

“We have built some great momentum for the financial literacy movement over the last 10 years and the sector is working well together. From Sorted, to the National Strategy, the Financial Literacy Summit and everything in between I’m really proud of the work we have completed but as always there is still work to be done. 

“The global financial crisis proved to be an important teachable ‘moment’ for a lot of New Zealanders regarding how they use their money.  People became very interested in where their money was going and how to make it work for them, but we know that New Zealanders are still not preparing well enough for their retirement so this continues to be our challenge,” she says.

Diana says the role of Retirement Commissioner has been a varied, rewarding and challenging and has no doubt the new Commissioner will feel the same when they take up the job.

“My one piece of advice to the new Commissioner – don’t take your foot off the pedal.”

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