Kaikohe is a small town in the Northland region of New Zealand. A recent event Youth Rampage brought Kaikohe into the international limelight. This episode illustrated for me the lack of financial literacy of the Maori population.

One might say, hold on what has a so-called youth rampage to do with financial literacy for indigenous people? Good question.

For me the answer is obvious: Life is about decision making, making good decisions, particularly financial ones. They seem to drive our well-being to a large extend.

In response to the ‘rampage’ politicians called for more police, tougher penalties, more funding. However, in my opinion the cry for more police does not cut it.

Northland is often seen as the ‘poor cousin’ of New Zealand. 40% of the Far North population is of indigenous descent:
Far North Ethnic Make Up







Far North Income to 30k

Far North Income to 10k

Income levels in the Far North are generally significantly lower in comparison to the rest of New Zealand.
Despite the fact that more people in the Far North achieving greater incomes (blue chart), the very low-end of income have also increased (orange chart). Resulting in a curious divergence.

“Māori have endured the cultural and material loss characteristic of colonised white settler countries (Panoho 2012). Contemporary manifestations of colonisation abound with income levels for Māori a case in point.”1

Financial Literacy
The OECD defines Financial Literacy as a combination of awareness, knowledge, skill, attitude and behaviour necessary to make sound financial decisions and ultimately achieve individual financial wellbeing.

From my point of view basic financial literacy includes:

  • Understanding loans and interest
  • Grasping the concept of budgeting
  • Controlling expenditure
  • Dealing with insurance

It by and large covers the learned ability to make basic informed decisions regarding the use and management of money.

Various iwi (NZ indigenous tribes), Government initiatives, local Councils and commercial banks all have expressed their intentions to lift the financial capability of the individuals they can influence.

There are certainly success stories. Hence little evidence of success is evident in the Far North region. A modern and developed country like New Zealand ought to exhibit more financial inclusion.

In a recent OECD survey New Zealand is ranked 6th ahead of heavyweights like Korea, The Netherlands and the UK.2
However, the ranking success for Far North Maori is not just about financial knowledge. It’s more about having the confidence, motivation and attitude to make positive financial decisions.

Motivation and Attitude
A few years ago I was working with Maori on a large industrial site in the Bay of Plenty. One older Maori lady really impressed me. Despite having only minimal formal education, Marama embraced budgeting and cost management with a passion. She developed financial skills very quickly and used them to full effect.
With Marama’s drive the team she was working in started to manage their own purchasing decisions and used these skills at home as well.

On another occasion a middle aged Maori male approached me about understanding budgeting. I showed him an example and he said that he could not read this as this looked like a sea of numbers to him. Nothing made sense until we sat down and went through it step-by step. He said to me I thought only accountants deal with this. I responded, now you know too and you are a truck driver.

Financial literacy gives greater choices in life. It places us all in the best position to make better decisions with better outcomes. For individuals and communities like Kaikohe.
A greater level of personal financial wellbeing across our communities can assist us to greater prosperity  – for individuals and the business community.

About the Author
Markus lives in the Far North and works as a business coach.

Foot notes:
1 Spending Habits of Maori Women, Dr Pushpa Wood, Westpac Massey Fin-Ed Centre
2 OECD, International Survey of Adult Financial literacy competencies, 2016

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 “The higher a monkey climbs the more you see of its backside.”
 Attributed to US General J Stilwell

I am sick and tired of seeing the vanishing monkey’s backside. Not that a monkey’s hindside bears a particular appeal.

It’s a good metaphor – companies continue to watch their growth potential disappearing.

It’s tough out there in the market. Business owners fighting on multiple fronts: cash flow, demanding customers, social media marketing, innovation. Any military commander will tell us fighting multiple fronts is not a good option if one wants to succeed.


Yet business growth remains the measure of for most companies. Apple Inc just announced the first drop in revenue since 2003. It appears, not even the mightiest are prone against a drop in growth.

I want to highlight 3 points that are fundamental to business growth – in fact they are very obvious:

1 Growth for self-preservation
Companies exist to make a profit. A profit ensures existence tomorrow. This means to compete better than their competitors. Be better, faster, smarter.

Like any living being, companies have a self-preservation instinct – it must grow and adapt to survive.

2 Growth driving increased profitability
In principle, jumping on the growth wagon means applying economies of scale.

Again, Apple Inc designed this to perfection. Higher iPhone revenue meant lower manufacturing costs on a massive scale and thus delivered increased net profit.  Now iPhone revenue has dropped by 10 million units (compared to last year). Reverberations on the stock market are afoot.

3 Growth – a tough ask for many
Whilst we most of the time hear and read the success stories in the business world, there are a lot businesses out there that are doing it tough, real tough.

However, there is light on the horizon:

Changing the source of Growth

Growth 2009 to 2015

Companies seem to invest more (% to revenue) into R&D (including buying technical knowledge or information abroad) nowadays and focus less on broad-brush marketing.

Six years ago, companies R&D share was 37%, last year it was 52% – it appears that more work is being done to produce high quality products.

In sum: Most businesses have to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to keep growing. I generally advise my clients to grow slowly, use the learning curve to get better at what they already doing. Consolidate the core value proposition, and then expand. Doing the homework via R&D.

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Trickle down effect

Māori in Business
Māori (indigenous) economic development for me is an overall indicator how well we are doing in New Zealand.  
I am not Māori nor an expert on Māori Businesses.
However, I have worked with Māori and Pacific Islanders on developing basic business skills at the ‘coal face’.
I can only offer simple observations, having lived and worked in New Zealand for the last 30 years.


Trickle down economics is a term used to describe the belief that if high income earners gain an increase in salary, then everyone in the economy will benefit as their increased income and wealth filter through to all sections in society.
Well, looking around, particularly in Northland, New Zealand, I have not seen a lot of evidence of the trickle-down impact.

Māori authorities – Indicative for Business Success?
Within the New Zealand economy Māori businesses include Māori authorities, small- and medium enterprises, and Māori-in-business (self-employed).

Total income for Māori authorities increased $430m in 2012 to $2.9bn in 2013.*
This is a massive increase.

The following graphs look at the growth of Māori Authorities
and how many jobs were created:

Māori Authorities (units) – Indicator for Success?

Maori Authorities growth
Maori Authorities growth (units)






Total business growth in New Zealand
Total business growth in New Zealand (units)
















3 Reasons for Failure
The below reasons are based on my personal observation:

1. Lack of basic Business Skills
Basic business skills are quite often not present – either not been taught or people are reluctant to embrace.
2. Insufficient ongoing Support
Some polytechnics churn out graduates in business but its lacking a proper support network to sustain enthusiasm.
3. Failure to Understand Market and Customers
This is tricky at the best of times – requires the ability to do in-depth research which is quite often beyond people’s capability.

3 Ways to Ensure Success – and to fly like an eagle

1. Essential Business Skills
* Equip people with the basic business skills such as budgeting, cost control and marketing tools.

* I have seen huge development in people once the basic concepts were understood. Sure, some people will embrace it more than others, but once the confidence is built, people move into the ‘business zone’ with more ease than I ever expected.
* The training needs to be ‘hands-on’ right from the start – some could be linked to NZQA unit standards but it’s not vital.

2. Ongoing Support
This is a critical part in the development of business skills because there will be set-backs – some will be painful.
* Therefore a good support network of people with different business skills sets is critical to sustain the effort.
* Ideally an on-going mentoring programme that may include other core skills such communication, how-to research and social media profiling.
* Have a checks & balance system in place that helps people new to business and their mentors objectively check on progress.
* With providing on-going support the commitment (and confidence) will grow – and in turn create a positive outlook.

3. Embed in Local Community
Any Māori (indigenous) or non- Māori business venture needs to be embedded into the local community infrastructure including the local Chamber of Commerce, existing community groups and local business mentors.
*  Develop hand-in-hand partnerships at local level
*  Apply Best Practice methods – use what works
*  Generate local led employment, particularly for Youth

Running a business in isolation is not a good thing.

Do the 3 key areas really ensure success?
Yes, they certainly will go a long way to achieve more favourable results – whilst we hold on for the long-awaited Trickle-Down-Effect:
* Essential Business Skills
* Ongoing Support
* Embed in Local Community
I have seen it seen it first-hand: people looking after budgets, doing research how to reduce costs and teaching others – passing on essential skills.

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