Business Hub: Oliver Mander on his risky proposal and why retail investors are on the rise

When Oliver Mander decided he wanted to marry Gillian Boyes, he turned a surprise birthday party into a wedding and proposed on the morning of the party.

“She did freak,” he admits.

Mander had arranged the dress, flowers, a cake and a live band to play in their lounge – all without letting the secret get out.

“I think I forgot the tablecloth; Gillian did have to go out and buy a tablecloth, which I don’t think we were too worried about.”

It’s just one of the surprise insights that Mander, who took over as chief executive of the investor advocacy group the New Zealand Shareholders’ Association in October, shares as part of our interview in Auckland.

On paper Mander looks like a conventional Kiwi businessman: an executive at BP for 19 years, followed by time working for Chorus, Z Energy and Wellington Water.

But outside his day job, Mander – who lives in Wellington and commutes to Auckland for work – chairs the Wellington Repertory Theatre and is involved in both acting and directing.

Boyes, his second wife, is also involved in another Wellington theatre company and by day is the head of investor capability at the Financial Markets Authority.

“Between the two of us, an awful lot of Wellington theatre comes out of our lounge,” Mander says.

The one topic they can’t talk about is share investing. “We have to take a Chinese wall approach.”

Mander can’t remember the name of the first company whose shares he bought as a university student, but he does remember that it helped him buy his first car and then his first house.

The 48-year-old is now a passionate advocate for share investing and believes it will become as popular as property investment for Kiwis.

The past year has seen a huge rise in the number of retail investors – individuals with a bit of spare change to invest – with Covid-driven lockdowns giving people the time and space to get into investing.

On top of that, plummeting deposit rates at the bank have driven people to look elsewhere in the hope of getting a better bang for their buck.

Mander, who grew up in Christchurch, believes the rise in online investment platforms has also been key.

“I think there are a few factors at play. I think some of that is the new breed of platforms at play like Sharesies, Hatch and Kernel that have really come out and offered investors an easy way to get into markets for the first time. That is one really key factor.

“I think another factor is the low interest rate environment we are in now. If you are trying to save for a house, the traditional way of just putting it in term deposits is not going to work for you. I think there is a whole raft of people out there that are looking for alternatives.”

And it seems Kiwis may finally be getting over the fear of shares that resulted from the 1987 market crash, which saw many people getting out of the market, and deciding to stay out.

“There was a whole generation that got turned off the sharemarket and turned off equity investment because of that crash,” says Mander. “To some extent, we can see the benefits of that in the property market.

“I think the beauty of what is happening now is New Zealanders are waking up to the fact there are other investments besides property that can actually secure their financial future.”

Shares have also become a lot more accessible for younger generations of Kiwis locked out of the property market by fast-rising prices and high deposit requirements.

For just $5 they can start investing via an online platform and buy individual shares, parts of a share or units in an investment fund.

But the rise of the retail investor has also resulted in some quirks that have institutional investors scratching their heads.

Last year, for example, Air New Zealand shares climbed back quickly after the lockdown slump, despite the airline’s many problems, and its plans for a capital raising, in which investors will either have to tip in more money, or face their share of the company being diluted.

Concerns have also risen that some investors have jumped on the bandwagon as a replacement for sports betting, as sports were largely cancelled or postponed due to Covid.

And, in another sign of what online investment platforms can do, this year retail investors piled into US-listed gaming company Gamestop, in a concerted effort to bring down institutional investors who were shorting the stock – essentially, betting on the shares falling in value.

Mander notes the hype around share investing is particularly strong among the younger generation.

But he says the rules of the game have not changed, regardless of people’s attitudes to it.

“So if you are a young investor looking to get into the market, it’s about knowing what you are investing in … it’s not like betting on a horse.

“While it is great to see that rise in the number of investors and the type of people that can invest, actually the quid pro quo for that is there is a greater onus on providers and ourselves, the NZSA, to provide more information to help investors on their journey.”

He sees the Gamestop phenomenon as being a sign of rising activism.

“It’s actually around people having a protest against what they perceive as unfair treatment of retail investors by institutions in the past.

“If nothing else, it does show the power of retail investors and that is an underlying message and a good thing to carry forward. But what it also shows is they are not investing solely for financial reasons; they are investing as a protest or to highlight a social inequality.”

Mander said it was really interesting see some of the comments made by New Zealand investors in Gamestop.

“Some had gone in knowing full well they would likely lose money out of it, but to them it wasn’t about that. It was about a bit of fun and having a voice and having a protest vote in that activism.”

Mander doubts the same situation would happen with a New Zealand-listed company.

“While we have got platforms like Sharesies, we haven’t got the same level of no-fee trading platforms they have in the US that are prevalent there. We also haven’t got the same level of equity related products like options or the ability to leverage against shares or options to purchase more … so I think there are some limitations on how likely it is to happen here.”

That hasn’t stopped New Zealand’s regulator, the Financial Markets Authority, from expressing concerns that retail investors may use online chat forums as a tool for market manipulation.

“I think it is good the FMA here have called that out and that they are thinking about that as a challenge to overcome in terms of regulation. Like anything, there are so many industries that have been disrupted due to the power of social media, technological change we have seen over the last 10, 20 years. This is no different to that and regulation has to come to terms with that and put in place the right structures to deal with it.”

He says retail investors are not immune from facing prosecution over market manipulation, pointing to a case the FMA took in November last year.

“There are some emerging trends that will ensure we don’t have that same level of market manipulation in New Zealand.”

Mander himself is hoping the NZSA can tap into the rising tide of new retail investors to build its membership and is looking at ways it can package up what it offers to entice more people on board.

The organisation has about 1500 members – a tiny fraction of the retail investors in New Zealand.

Mander admits he wasn’t a member himself before going for the top job, despite being a long-time investor.

“It’s actually a good question of itself. What was NZSA not doing that didn’t attract someone like me?”

He doesn’t know the answer to that yet, but says it is part of the challenge for the organisation.

“Making sure we can maintain and enhance our membership to cater for the services people want.”

One task he has taken on is trying to understand the NZSA’s customers and potential customers, and letting people know about the services the organisation can offer.

“Even if people think they know what they are doing there is always some value to add. I have always regarded myself – not just investing but corporate life – you never stop learning.”

Mander has already bought the organisation further into the 21st century, using Facebook and LinkedIn to promote itself and events.

He says the advantages of being an NZSA member include its ability to get access to listed companies and provide an insight that individual investors may struggle to get themselves without dedicating a lot of time.

“We have those conversations – we are researching companies in terms of how they are operated, how they are governed and we are reflecting that back to members as well.”

The NZSA also votes on behalf of members at company meetings and will do the research needed to support that vote.

“And if you don’t agree with us, you can always say ‘I don’t want you to vote on my behalf’.”

This year the association plans to beef up its education office, and to start providing material for different types of investors to support their own development and help them make better decisions.

Mander says he was in a good position in his career to go for the role.

“I think I just got to the stage where I felt I could take a risk. I guess I am lucky like that. I wanted a change, I was looking for something different and it has been a passion for a long time – seeing New Zealanders invest and making sure every New Zealander has a chance to invest that is something I’m quite passionate about.”

Oliver Mander

Job: Chief executive, NZ Shareholders’ Association.
Age: 48.
Education: University of Canterbury Bachelor of Commerce
Career: Worked for BP for 19 years in a range of roles in New Zealand, the UK and Australia. Also worked for Chorus, Z Energy and Wellington Water.
Family: married to Gillian Boyes, with three teenage sons between them.
Spare time: Enjoys long distance running and chairs the Wellington Repertory Theatre as well as acting and directing
Last movie watched: Dry – “Australian film about a detective inspector who goes back to his home town and is ostracised. It was pretty gritty.”
Last book read: Deception. “Utter rubbish.”
Lastoverseas holiday: He took the family to Japan in January 2020 to go skiing. It was the last big holiday when all five of them would be together, with oldest son Thomas leaving home to study in Christchurch.

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