New ambition: Cooks as a part of NZ banking system

Monday July 13, 2020 Written by Published in Economy
Louise Wittwer is to finish as Financial Supervisory Commissioner in November.   JONATHAN MILNE 20071209 Louise Wittwer is to finish as Financial Supervisory Commissioner in November. JONATHAN MILNE 20071209

Announcing her departure, the Financial Supervisory Commissioner backs Cook Islands merging into the NZ banking system.

Louise Wittwer has dealt with six funerals back-to-back in the past month or two. She’s bid farewell to her friends as they took Sue Fletcher-Vea’s body back to New Zealand. She’s watched the Prime Minister announce his departure.

And it made her think: when is the right time to step away?

By December, she will have completed the checklist of projects she gave herself and her board, when she was appointed Financial Supervisory Commissioner in December 2015 – and that seems a good time to go.

The Commission’s chairman Geoff Stoddart said the ranking of the Cook Islands as one of the best-regulated jurisdictions in the world was a remarkable achievement, and Wittwer was a moving force in achieving this. 

Wittwer spoke fondly of her 11 years with the Commission, the last five as Commissioner.

The Commission is responsible for oversight of four banks, a couple of insurance companies, three money-changers, six trustee companies and other financial service providers. In addition, the Commission plays a core role in ensuring soundness and stability of the Cook Islands financial system.

When Wittwer finishes, she will have switched licensees over to online filing, and introduced them to risk-based supervision. Those financial organisations found to be performing well can enjoy light-touch supervision; those that are struggling will face greater scrutiny.

Now, Wittwer hopes to help bring Cook Islands into the New Zealand banking system – a stated goal of Prime Minister-in-waiting Mark Brown. Brown has discussed it with New Zealand Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr, who is a Cook Islander.

There have been calls for Cook Islands to be part of the New Zealand banking system for several years, and these have been amplified by the Covid-19 economic downturn.

Tourism leaders say that would enable the New Zealand Reserve Bank to back our banks in loaning bailout money to Cooks businesses.

And Brown said in May that the government was looking at collaborating with the Reserve Bank, to create a special purpose vehicle providing a repayment holiday for rental home owners.

Wittwer said becoming part of the New Zealand banking system would enable the banks to modernise – no more swapping handwritten cheques in a parking lot at the end of the working day!

She saw a role for herself in crafting the new relationship. “My passion is to help in the public sector,” she said. “I’d like to give back to Cook Islanders – they’ve given me and my family an amazing life in the past 18 years, and a time like Covid is a good opportunity to give back.”

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