Beyond Banking: Making Migration a Business Issue

April 14th, 2015

Frank CuiFrank Cui, Head of Migrant and Asian Banking for Bank of New Zealand (BNZ), talks to Cities of Migration’s guest editor, Vicky Holder, Committee for Auckland, about the value of diversity in the work place and the practical ideas his team has developed to make Asian migrants feel welcome.

New Zealand’s oldest bank, BNZ believes that to continue to be relevant to their customers, large organisations, such as banks, need to reflect the communities in which they operate and the increasingly diverse customer base they serve. This belief has led to a number of diversity initiatives over the last three years, one of which is a dedicated team, operating specifically to cater for the needs of New Zealand’s increasing numbers of Asian migrants.

Established in 2010 with two staff members, the BNZ Migrant and Asian Banking team now has 36 full time staff speaking nine languages. The team is made up of New Zealanders from different parts of Asia who are able to deliver banking solutions in a client’s own language and cultural context as well as understand the challenges and fears new migrants face in New Zealand. In addition to traditional banking solutions, support from the BNZ migrant banking team also extends to sharing local information on the best schools, networks or making business introductions.

Supporting new migrants as they navigate a new country and culture starts the moment the client walks through the bank’s front doors to NNZ banks across New Zealand. All BNZ staff who can speak a second language can be identified by the country flag prominently displayed on their name badge.

BNZ’s, dynamic head of Migrant and Asian Banking, Frank Cui describes the circumstances that led to BNZ developing a migrant banking team:

“Asian customers are used to a different pace in terms of service. They interact in a different way to European Kiwis. It’s subtle, but important when trying to build a relationship. New Zealand banks – and businesses in general – need to understand immigrants’ lifestyles as well as their needs. It is a broader commitment than just providing Asian speaking staff.”

“Businesses need to know how to add value to their Asian customers in the way that is valuable to them,” says Frank. Moving beyond the fundamentals of transactional banking to providing practical help to new New Zealanders requires proactive thinking. Having team members who were migrants themselves means an instant empathy for their customers.

Frank himself arrived in New Zealand at age 18 with little English and no experience of Kiwi culture so he understands how new arrivals can feel.

“Helping somebody find the right school for their child is just as important as setting up the right bank account and package of financial products,” says Frank. “Our customers really appreciate having someone to have a laugh with, who understands. Those are the relationships that last.”

VH: How did you decide on what materials and resources about life in NZ to offer to migrant customers?

“All the information about life in New Zealand -schools, sport, how to buy a house, get a driver’s licence etc.- is out there but it is not readily accessible. We put all this information in ONE place for our customers.”

Crucially, Frank and his team recognise that it is cultural context and confidence that sometimes gets lost in translation. Providing safe spaces for new migrants to learn conversational English and get to grips with the unique New Zealand idiom shifts the focus from what people say to what they mean and is a vital tool in making Asian migrants feel welcomed.

The focus appears to be on migrants from China. Are there plans to extend the migrant banking suite of resources to other ethnicities? If so, which ones and why?

Asian migrants in New Zealand are not just Chinese. They are from Japan, the Philippines and India. They speak Mandarin, Cantonese and a myriad of other dialects.

As over 25% of new arrivals to Auckland are Asian, the bank will continue to focus on adding value to those communities before expanding its migrant banking suite of services to other ethnicities.

In addition to the migrant banking department initiatives, what does the future hold for BNZ’s Diversity Programme?

In February 2014 Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) released a study outlining the case for active investment in encouraging diversity in the workforce. The bank argued that diversity is not political correctness, but delivers a distinct competitive advantage for organisations that invest in encouraging a culture of diversity, flexibility and inclusion.

Over the past three years the bank has been walking its talk and in 2013 was one of five organisations worldwide to be recognised by the United Nations for its progress in encouraging gender diversity. The bank launched the Te Pihinga Maori cadetships in partnership with Te Puni Kokiri in January 2013 and offers flexible working as an option for all employees.

BNZ will continue working on initiatives that encourage the development of a balanced workforce which Frank says will lead to competitive advantage.

“At the end of the day, diversity is not about age, gender, style or ethnicity; it is about unleashing the potential of each individual within your workforce.”

Can you describe the practical steps that service institutions in other countries would take to adopt your Diversity Programme and specific initiatives?

1. Focus on adding value in ways that are important for the customers.

2. Create a framework within which you can pilot ideas and expand on successful ones. BNZ’s diversity programme was built organically, beginning with two staff, developed strategically and executed well because of a clear implementation framework.

3. “Measurement is vital – what gets measured gets done.”

4. Consistent support from the top down and across the organisation has driven the results the bank has seen so far.

We asked Frank for the secret to his winning formula: “We have a common commitment – from the board to the executive team right through the organisation.

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