Rhiannon McKinnon. Photo / Dean Purcell
When Rhiannon McKinnon got her first job at a London investment bank the men at the firm were still talking about how they had only recently let women start wearing trousers – that was in
Just over 20 years later McKinnon has broken through the glass ceiling to become the chief executive of Kiwi Wealth after being promoted from a part-time position.
“It meant a lot to me to be even considered as a candidate. For the quality of my work to be valued as opposed to just the quantity and the hours I put in, I thought that was really exciting to be chosen and be able to move into that full-time position.”
Kiwi Wealth manages over $6 billion worth of KiwiSaver money as the sixth largest provider in the New Zealand market. It is 53 per cent owned by New Zealand Post, 25 per cent by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and 22 per cent by ACC.
KiwiSaver has three million members, slightly more than half of which are women but, when it comes to who manages the money, it is mainly men.
Outside of the three female bank CEOs at ASB, ANZ and BNZ McKinnon is the only woman to head up a KiwiSaver provider.
For McKinnon herself stepping into the top job six weeks ago was not an easy decision given she has three young children aged 3, 5 and 7.
“My stomach dropped when they asked and then I really had to think about whether I could actually do the juggle.
“I almost thought that I couldn’t. One of my oldest friends in New Zealand then said you can do it and we will back you up. And she really has, she has literally come around and help put my children to bed in the last few weeks.
“I do think it takes a village. But she gave me the confidence to say yes because there has been a lot to juggle on the family side recently. And it was great to have her back-up and the back-up of all my friends.”
It hasn’t exactly been an easy ride either. In her first few weeks in the job McKinnon faced a grilling by media over the KiwiSaver scheme’s investment in a company called Raytheon – a US missile maker.
It prompted the Green Party’s co-leaders to say they would be pulling their retirement savings out of the scheme.
McKinnon said a final decision hadn’t been made yet on whether it would continue to invest in Raytheon.
“Our first reaction was to look at our current responsible investment policies. Raytheon wasn’t red-flagged at that stage under all the research that we had. We exclude controversial and nuclear weapons but not all weapons at the moment.”
She said Kiwi Wealth’s responsible investment committee was now considering whether to increase its exclusions to cover all weapons.
“We have gone out and surveyed customers on that, we are going through the process at the moment and a decision will be made in the next month or two.”
Kiwi Wealth, like other default scheme providers, is also waiting on tenterhooks to find out which schemes will get the Government’s sign-off as a default provider for the next seven years.
There are currently nine schemes which have default provider status but the Government has indicated it could look to cut it back to five.
An announcement is expected in the next month or two.
McKinnon won’t comment on how Kiwi Wealth is going in the tender process which has been running since late last year but acknowledges the importance of the default status which captures any new members to KiwiSaver who don’t select a scheme.
“It is an extremely important channel to market to acquire new customers who are just beginning on their KiwiSaver journey.
“There is still a lot of natural growth in the market … you are not seeing enormous growth from when you started but there are always new people coming into the workforce each year.”
Any providers who lose their default status will have to transfer those members to the remaining default schemes.
“It sort of increases the size of the prize for the people who remain within the scheme. And it also means they are redistributing some of the funds of the existing providers around if they do go from nine to five – there is a windfall for those who stay or come into the tent.”
Outside of KiwiSaver Kiwi Wealth also manages money on behalf of private clients – around $2 billion – and owns investment platform Hatch which has seen a huge rise in the number of retail investors joining on the heels of Covid.
It was one of the areas that McKinnon identified as having potential growth in her previous role as general manager of strategy and partnerships which she worked in four days a week.
“I was thinking about the corporate strategy of the business – not the investment strategy but how we grow the business. How do we get more KiwiSaver members on board and where do we think wealth is going in New Zealand.
“The strategic project I did identified that wealth platforms were coming to New Zealand and that was a place we needed to play in so that project led to hiring Kristen [Lunman] and the development of Hatch.
“It has been a really good call. It takes some guts for a corporate to do an incubator like that.”
McKinnon has worked within New Zealand Post, KiwiBank and the Kiwi Wealth group of companies since 2011 but it was love that brought her to New Zealand.
The born and bred Londoner met her Kiwi husband Alex while travelling and quit her investment banking job to study Chinese in China for a year after being inspired by his command of Mandarin.
Despite her mother originating from mainland China McKinnon was never taught to speak Cantonese growing up. Her father was Welsh – her parents met at a bus-stop in London and it was just too hard for her mother to keep up the language.
After a year of studying in China she suggested Alex come live with her in London but instead he wanted to move back to Christchurch.
“So that was where we went. I had never been to New Zealand before I agreed to move here.
“I came to New Zealand for love and I have fallen in love with this place. I feel really lucky to be here.”
McKinnon worked for a small investment bank called Murray and Company when she first arrived in 2007 and then the couple moved to Wellington in 2011 around the time of the Canterbury earthquakes.
“We were looking for a house in Wellington and the tender ended up being on the 23rd of February 2011, that was the day after the Christchurch earthquake. I ended up writing a letter to the owner and said please accept my offer because the house we were living in, which was Alex’s mother’s, was really wrecked by the quake the day before.”
She worked for New Zealand Post for four years as an investment adviser and in treasury before moving to Kiwibank as the executive adviser to the CEO – a role she did three days a week.
“That was in the midst of when I was flitting in and out of the workforce because I had three kids in about three and half years. After baby number two I came back three days a week and that was fascinating.
“I felt very lucky to have this interesting role where you were sitting with the leadership of a New Zealand bank and I was just doing it Monday, Tuesday, Thursday.”
McKinnon says sticking within the same employment group has really helped her work flexibly while maintaining senior roles.
“If you are a known entity in your company and they already value you and they know what you are capable of I think they are probably more open-minded – there is a reason I have stayed in the group for 10 years because I think it would be really hard to find a similar senior-level role with people who didn’t already know me.”
McKinnon says her advice to others looking to combine a family and a senior role is to find a good employer and stick with them.
“If you end up with an employer who values you and you like them too I think actually staying with them for a while probably does work quite well. But I think you also need to work out what your own priorities are and whether you want to be in a senior role.
“Getting really good help around you to take the edge off the domestic side if you can – whether it is friends or family or an extremely supportive partner. You can’t do it all yourself and if you try and do a lot of work on the home front and at work I think it breaks people. It’s too much. Pick what really is important to you.”
• Acting CEO of Kiwi Wealth.
• Born: In Watford, London.
• Educated: Cambridge University, Master of Arts majoring in History.
• Career: Began work life as an analyst with investment bank Cazenove before moving to Morgan Stanley. Studied Chinese in China before moving to Christchurch to work for a small investment bank, later taking a job at New Zealand Post in Wellington. Has worked at Kiwibank and Kiwi Wealth. Promoted to acting chief executive in February.
• Family: Married to Alex with three children, age 7, 5 and 3.
• Age: 41.
• What was the last book you read?: The Piano Teacher.
• What was last movie you saw?: Ocean’s 8.
• What was last holiday you went on?: Went to the Marlborough Sounds in January.
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