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It’s not all bank balances and interest rates for the Police Credit Union’s new chief executive, Joe Bishop.

Credit where it's due

Investment specialist Joe Bishop took over the reins of the Police Credit Union just as the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown started.

It was a strange way to start as the new chief executive, but, he says, he took comfort from the fact that he was joining an organisation that was well placed for dealing with uncertain events.

While handshakes, introductory morning teas and face-to-face meetings were off the table, the PCU was still able to operate remotely. Members could easily contact staff, access their accounts and continue their financial business almost as normal.

Putting the interest of customers at the heart of banking and investment has been a hallmark of Joe’s career, most recently as the chief customer officer for Kiwi Wealth, the investment arm of Kiwibank. He managed teams tasked with finding easier ways to interact with customers.

What they found, he said, was that while KiwiSaver customers, naturally, were very interested in how much was in their investment funds, they didn’t have much insight into making decisions about their money. “They knew their balance and the performance of their funds, but that wasn’t particularly helpful or empowering in terms of what decisions they should be making.”

The challenge was to get people to think about issues such as how to convert their wealth into retirement income by understanding their own financial capability, current financial conditions and how to make plans.

Originally from England, Joe has worked in finance for more than 15 years and has lived in New Zealand since 2009. “I came to spend some time with family over here, but loved it so much, I had to stay,” he says. He became a citizen in 2011.

The transition to the PCU was a neat fit with his desire to work with “a community of people in a purpose-led, values-based organisation”.

Policing fits that bill too. He has huge admiration for Police members and their families. “Many people who join Police take a pay cut to do so. We know that. It’s a vocation, a calling, and the start of a whole bunch of sacrifices, such as doing shift work, being in harm’s way and being away from family.

“We recognise the impact the job has on members and their families. It’s a sacrifice to be a police officer and a sacrifice for their families.”

The not-for-profit PCU is on their side, he says. As a sister organisation to the Police Association, the PCU complements the work of the association. “NZPA helps with industrial and welfare issues and we can look after members’ financial health.”

Although it might have been expected that the PCU’s fortunes would have suffered during the lockdown, Joe reports that while there was less lending, there was an increase in deposits and investments, reflecting trust in the PCU “and an understanding of our purpose and stability”.

And, encouragingly, since the nationwide lockdown ended, there has been a spike in lending.

It makes sense, says Joe. “During the lockdown people were doing a lot of thinking. They were stuck at home, noticing, perhaps, what home improvements needed doing, or deciding to buy a new car, making decisions about what to do when it was all over.”

Also, with interest rates falling, Joe says credit unions and mutual organisations are in a slightly better position to have nominally higher interest rates on savings.

The PCU also offers debt consolidation lending secured by the Police Super Scheme, with interest rates lower than the main banks, as well as other lending options, online banking and free financial capability workshops and webinars.

While the Reserve Bank has signalled the prospect of negative interest rates as a possibility, Joe’s advice to investors is, don’t panic. If it happens, it will affect only the wholesale rates of funds that institutions deposit with each other.

Rates will be low, he warns, “but it’s unlikely that we would ever see negative rates for members for lending or investment. Once again, as a not-for-profit, we can usually offer slightly better rates”.

The PCU has 18,000 members. While new members are always welcome, Joe says his priority is to do a better job for existing members. After he became chief executive, Joe made it a goal to connect with as many members as possible to find out what sort of improvements they would like to see.

It soon became clear that an easier way of verifying personal details to set up and access accounts was essential. The solution was to move online and become truly digital. He’s quick to point out, however, that members can still do things the old way if they prefer.

It’s about being flexible and making the most of the benefits of a not-for-profit organisation where any surpluses are fed back into benefits for its members. And, thanks to good stewardship, he says, “we have a strong balance sheet even in this difficult year”.

He’s even managed to get his feet under a real desk in a real office, shake a few hands and cuddle a police dog puppy.

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