Terry Nuthall started his career as a junior filling ink wells at the Bank of New Zealand in Auckland’s High Street. He went on to oversee the transition to decimal currency in 1967 and represent the BNZ’s interests in Japan. He spoke to James Addis about his unconventional approaches to banking and life …
I grew up in Glendowie. When my father came back from the war our family had no money. Like a lot of people in that situation we lived in a state house. I went to Auckland Grammar School, and I’m still a member of the Old Boys Association. My claim to fame at Grammar, and an early foray into finance, came during the 1956 Springbok tour. I wanted to go to the school ball, but I couldn’t afford a suit. So, I decided to queue up at Eden Park to get some tickets to the test match there. You could buy four tickets, which I was going to sell for a profit to give me the money for the suit. On Friday morning, I took my books and my pup tent and set it up outside Eden Park at 8am. I was the first one there, which is not surprising because the tickets did not come on sale until 10am on Saturday. I got inside the tent trying to be very discreet because I was supposed to be in school. But this ruddy reporter from the Herald came and started talking to me. I said, “I can’t talk to you because if my headmaster found out – Mr Cooper – I would be in serious trouble.” The reporter must have opened the zip to my tent. When I stuck my head out, he took a photo. The next morning the newspaper boys came around. Inside the paper on the main page – to my horror – there was this picture of me. At school assembly on Monday morning, Mr Cooper said, “There is one boy I need to see. He knows who he is.” I was threatened with having to sit the University Entrance exam rather than be accredited, and my father was called in. We had to promise we were not going to scalp all the tickets. As it turned out though, I did sell the tickets to my father and my uncle, and I got the £9 I needed to buy a suit from Hugh Wrights and go to the ball.
I went to university to study accounting, but it just didn’t work for me. But I had plenty of job offers – I could have been a clerk for the harbour board, gone to work for a pharmacy or even gone into the church and trained to be a minister. Two banks were keen to employ me, Westpac and BNZ. I chose the BNZ because they had just moved into a former restaurant in High Street. There were ballerinas etched into the glass and big, long velvet curtains. I thought this would be a lovely place to work.
I started out as the office junior. I had to fill the ink wells, make sure the nibs and pens were working and make sure fresh blotters were on the pads on the writing desks. I also collected the mail, which included gold bars sent up from the branch in Dunedin. The gold was wrapped in brown paper and sometimes you could see through it to the gold inside. I used to carry these bars from the post office, up an alleyway and into our branch. It just shows you the difference in attitudes to safety and security back then. Having said that, banks were stricter in other ways. Our bank tellers would each have a pistol hidden behind the counter while they were serving customers. Every year, they would go to the Colonial Ammunition Company in Mt Eden and get pistol training.
The nice thing about banking is you move on to various types of jobs very quickly. I learned to handle import and export documentation and operate a ledger machine, which processed customers’ cheques and updated their accounts. In 1965, I was transferred to the BNZ branch in Melbourne and later to the branch in Sydney. Australia was preparing to switch to decimal currency. The idea was that I would come back to New Zealand and help oversee the BNZ’s switch to decimal, which was due on 10 July 1967. When I returned to New Zealand, I helped write manuals several inches thick that explained how every document in the bank should be converted from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents.
I also did a lot of public speaking about the change. One time I was talking to inmates in Mt Crawford prison, explaining the new currency with dummy coins and notes. One prisoner sidled up afterwards very worried because he had a stash of money buried somewhere, and he was not going to get out for another five years. Would the old money be worthless?
The minister in charge of decimalisation was Robert Muldoon – the future prime minister. One evening I invited him to come and speak at our local Jaycee meeting. Muldoon was popularly referred to as “piggy.” We knew a friendly baker who used to bake bread for the meetings from left over dough. That night I got him to bake an enormous pig, which I proudly presented to Muldoon at the end of the evening. Muldoon did not seem to mind. There was more freedom then. Political correctness has since changed the world.
I was a bit of a rebel in those days. The BNZ head office was a very structured and controlled sort of place. There was a strict dress code. Men wore a brown or blue tie and long trousers.
I thought that was ridiculous in summer, so I started wearing shorts. I also like colour so I got rid of the brown tie and began wearing brightly coloured silk ties. I had a huge collection and still have some of them. I got a few comments about it, but nothing that I worried about.
My approach was often unconventional. During a stint as bank manager in Kawerau I realised I could not sit behind a desk. I would be out in the engineering workshops, the farms and the orchards. That gave me a good understanding of the local economy. If a guy wants to turn his land into a blueberry farm, you have got to go out and see what the land looks like.
Later, I was sent to Japan. My job there was to contact Asian banks and persuade them to handle New Zealand export transactions through the BNZ. My territory included Honk Kong, Taiwan, Korea and China. Again, my modus operandi was different from other bankers. I would travel on a Friday and spend the weekend learning about the culture and visiting the local sites. When I met, say the vice-president of a bank in Seoul, I’d start talking about what I had seen and learned, not so much about the banking side. Other bankers would fly in on Monday and fly straight out again. But I had to make up for a lack of experience in the international side of banking and tackle things in another way.
My family has had a bach on Kawau Island for many years and we’ve always liked this area. When I retired, we bought a place in Warkworth. I keep very busy. I’ve been a member of Rotary for 40 years and right now I am chair of the local Food Rescue organisation. It’s a joint Rotary/Lions programme which collects food that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to organisations helping families in need. We have got 70 volunteers running the programme and are redistributing about two tonnes of food a month. We’re always getting interesting donations. Recently, we were given 50kg of asparagus and 20 cartons of cheese. What appeals to me about Rotary is its ability to improve things in our community and the world and make a difference. You really feel it is worthwhile. Somebody has got to put their hand up and do these things.