Westpac’s Martine Jager on asking questions, getting answers and New Zealand’s dire financial literacy stats

As the centrepiece of Westpac’s new ‘Start Asking’ campaign shows, New Zealanders can talk about almost everything these days, whether it be politics, religion, war, sex, existential issues and, of course, Rugby World Cup wins. But, as Westpac’s general manager of marketing and customer experience Martine Jager says, we’re still not comfortable talking about money. So can the bank actually change that? 

The insights for the campaign were gleaned from research conducted with around 750 New Zealanders done in conjunction with Massey University’s Centre for Banking studies. And many of the stats make for fairly worrying reading. Jager says the key figures for her were that just eight percent of Kiwis would talk about a retirement savings plan, which is “a pretty low number” given the current state of the country’s—and the world’s—public coffers, and just four percent of New Zealanders felt like they had a good understanding of how to manage money. So the TVC, which was directed by The Sweet Shop’s Noah Marshall and crystalises the contrasts about our willingness to talk about some things but not others, and the digital and social work by Rapp Tribal to back that up, has been done with the express purpose of “getting New Zealanders comfortable with asking about money”. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9Un8xfr1-c“We felt this was a really insightful way to get New Zealanders to start asking,” she says. And, as the research shows, the more questions that people ask and the more exposure people have to financial issues, “the more comfortable they become”.

So why, when the research showed money issues often created anxiety, don’t New Zealanders talk about their finances? 

Westpac worked with an anthropologist to delve deeper into the research, and Jager feels the lack of chatter is due to a combination of the strong, silent ‘bottle it up inside’ Kiwi culture and the fact that it’s not engrained as a normal behaviour. For example, the study showed 66 percent did not talk about money or financial planning as a family when growing up, despite the fact that 66 percent sometimes, most of the time or all the time experienced financial difficulties as a family growing up. 

50 percent of families do not talk about money and financial planning and just 24 percent of parents actively spent time teaching their children about money growing up. As a result, 43 percent feel New Zealanders need to get better at talking about money. 

The research also showed that 57 percent believe finance is a private matter and 44 percent believe people struggling with money will be to embarrassed to ask for help. But only 12 percent disagreed that we would be happier if it was easier to talk about finances. The impact of low financial understanding in adult/parenthood means 64 percent experienced financial difficulties on a monthly, weekly or daily basis; 69 percent felt financial security is simply being able to pay the bills; 61 percent were not confident they had a good financial plan for the future; and 58 percent believed marriages fail because of money matters.

So there are some big gaps there and some fertile territory for financial institutions to explore.

Of course, the financial world has become a lot more complicated, so some believe part of the blame for all the confusion lies at the feet of the financial industry. As part of the inaugural Money Week, Katherine Percy, chief executive of adult literacy, numeracy and communication support provider, Workbase says she would like to see the blame for low financial literacy being shifted from people to the system, and she feels New Zealand’s financial service providers create high demands for people because financial products and services are unnecessarily complex, just as has been the case with telecommunication services. 

But Jager says “I don’t think we’re part of it”. She does think it can be part of the solution, however, and while there are plenty of cynics who will say the banks are in it for themselves, a healthy banking system is an important cog in the wheel of a healthy economy, as the Herald’s Liam Dann has been pointing out, and while Jager admits this campaign is obviously about selling more products and services and getting more customers, she says there is also an element of public service. 

“We totally believe as a bank we have a role to play in New Zealand’s future,” she says. “… We want to make sure we make a difference.” 

As for what’s next, she says the digital channels and Facebook app have been designed to keep people engaged. As it says on the app, some of the questions that are asked will be answered through Westpac’s YouTube channel and there’s some more stuff in the pipeline that will be coming out soon. 

“We’ll have some fun with it, but there’s also a practical side as well,” she says. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSA2UsMpinkAs for the timing of the campaign, she says it’s coincidental that it was ready to launch so soon after the National Bank announcement. All the banks had an inkling it was coming and prepared their own responses to the news, with Westpac running an animated ad by its previous agency Colenso BBDO. But while she realises “there is an opportunity now”, she also says “this campaign is something we’ve been working on for some time”. 

DDB’s managing director Justin Mowday agrees and says this is the outward manifestation of an 18 month long process to cement the mantra of ‘Help’ inside the business. In many ways it’s the opposite of BNZ’s approach, because while its ‘Be Good with Money’ teaser campaign got plenty of attention, teaser campaigns are notoriously hard on staff because they’re dropped in the deep end when the big reveal is made. 

“Westpac has spent that long engraining it so they can get to this point,” Mowday says. “They’ve laid the groundwork.”

The digital component is not just “lazy matching luggage”, either. “It’s a proper, deep strategy about engagement”. And while Mowday admits he may have drunk the Kool-aid, he believes Westpac has a genuine desire to engage New Zealanders in questions about money. 

“They’re mature enough to know that if they make all of New Zealand better off, then they’ll be better off as a result. People are cynical about [banks and record profits]. But when you look at it closely, the contribution the bank makes to New Zealand in terms of employment and to local economies is massive.” 

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