Date posted: 09/12/2021 10 min read

The future is Māori

With the business sphere finally evolving to a Māori world view, there is an opportunity for Māori CAs to help drive change.

In Brief

  • Māori make up about 16.5% of New Zealand’s population but just 3% of its accountants.
  • Purpose-beyond-profit business thinking is starting to echo the Maori approach of putting community and the planet first.
  • There is a tension between the wholistic Māori view and traditional Pākeha governance and reporting standards.

By Ben Tutty

Talia Anderson-Town CA is one of a small number of Māori chartered accountants in New Zealand. The Whanganui-based director of Silks Audit first came across accounting in year 11 at secondary school. “I took it as a subject and didn’t really know what it was but loved it and have continued with it throughout my career,” she says.

From a graduate job with Silks Audit, Anderson-Town has worked her way up to director and audit partner. She is also a board member of the Whanganui District Health Board and chair of the CA ANZ Whanganui Local Committee and has just been appointed to the board of the New Zealand government’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency, better known as Pharmac.

Māori comprise just 3% of accountants in Aotearoa, says the National Māori Accountants Network, although they make up about 16.5% of New Zealanders. Anderson-Town and her husband (and fellow Silks director) Cameron Town CA are doing what they can to attract young Māori into the profession. And she hopes to inspire the next generation by being a role model. “There are not many Māori in this profession and young Māori wouldn’t always consider chartered accountant as a career path, however hopefully seeing me, with a similar background and upbringing, someone might think, ‘Maybe I can do that, too,’” she says.  

 Talia Anderson-Town CA and her husband (and fellow Silks director) Cameron Town CAPicture: Talia Anderson-Town CA and Cameron Town CA audit many Māori entities and have set up an internship program at Silks Audit in Whanganui to attract young Māori and others to the profession. Image credit: Istudios Multimedia LTD.


New pathways

Silks Audit, which audits many Māori entities, has an internship program where students from any background can work one day a week or two half-days to get on-the-job experience while they study. Silks’ two- to three-year graduate program provides basic audit training for young accountants and while working at Silks, graduates are encouraged to do the CA Program, paid for by the firm. It’s a way to attract young people, train them to be the type of auditors Silks values, and hopefully retain them at the firm.

“I’m a great advocate for having Māori come in, look at this career and take it on,” says Anderson-Town. “A lot wouldn’t visualise themselves doing it. Many will only go in somewhere if they know someone there or can see a role model. It’s about engaging with them and showing them the pathway.”

Anderson-Town believes targeting young people when they are at high school is important – when they are trying to work out what sort of career appeals to them. That belief is shared by Māori leader Wayne Tainui FCA, head of Māori Business for PwC New Zealand, where he leads strategy for the Māori sector and is responsible for promoting future Māori leadership. Tainui says that to encourage more rangatahi (younger generation) Māori into accounting and business, the pathways into the industry need to be redesigned.

“We need to break down perceived barriers and say to Māori that they can work in a corporate like PwC,” Tainui says. “Organisations need to demonstrate that their recruitment processes are agile and can be conducted in a Te Ao Māori setting, being respectful of Māori tikanga (protocols and customs) as part of their recruitment processes.”

Ultimately, Tainui believes the responsibility for attracting young Māori into the accounting and finance sector and developing their talents falls to the current crop of leaders.

“We need to take responsibility for developing Māori leaders who are equipped for change and have our people, clients, communities and planet at the centre of their thinking,” he says.

Wayne Tainui FCAPicture: PwC's Wayne Tainui FCA wants to redesign pathways to the profession. Image credit: Ruth Gilmour.


“We need to have our people, clients, communities and planet at the centre of their thinking.”
Wayne Tainui FCA

The time might never be better. With private businesses, government and the public placing an increased focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and adopting a purpose-beyond-profit way of thinking, Te Ao Māori (the Maori world view) is taking on new importance.

The Maori world view

Te Ao Māori seeks to understand and acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things: kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the land and sustainability), whanaungatanga (collectivism, family and relationships) and manaakitanga (the act of caring for others).

In the past this Māori approach has been at odds with the profit-driven mindset that propels many businesses. It created unique challenges for Māori leaders and entities. Now New Zealand is starting to catch on to this more holistic economic world view.

“In many ways, it seems the Pākeha [white New Zealand] world is catching up with Te Ao Māori, and this is a trend I expect to continue…” remarked Christian Hawkesby, assistant governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand during “The Future is Māori” panel at the Institute of Directors Leadership Conference in May. “The future of the New Zealand economy is Māori, and it’s bright.”

Joe Consedine, CA ANZ’s general manager, New Zealand, says adopting Māori values can contribute to stronger performance across all measures and believes “businesses are flocking to purpose-beyond-profit thinking”.

“It’s not a soft strategy or a nice-to-have,” he emphasises. “The conversation has changed and now this is something businesses must consider – or be left behind.”

Most large Kiwi businesses (and many SMEs) have ESG strategies in place and many already use triple bottom-line reporting, sharing details of their profits as well as their impact on people and the planet. Contemporary business takes a broader view of success, which Consedine believes is grounded in Te Ao Māori’s long-term way of thinking.

“All contemporary business thinking is long-term and broad,” he says. “Businesses are considering their staff’s mental health and wellbeing, their environmental impact and connection with their communities. All of that is grounded in Māori values – it’s almost like Kiwi businesses are shifting back to indigeneity.”

Overcoming tensions

Despite the shift in global thinking, one thing holding back adoption of Māori values in business is the tension between that holistic Māori view with short-term, profit-driven business goals and traditional Pākeha governance and reporting standards.

It’s a tension evident in postsettlement governance entities (PSGEs), the bodies that receive and look after settlement redress received from the Crown as part of the claimant groups’ historical Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

“There’s an internal battle at times,” says one CA who works with a PSGE but did not want to be named. “How do you put assets that have cultural significance like our land on a balance sheet? And how do we explain financial reporting standards to our people, some of whom don’t have accounting literacy?”

Wayne Tainui FCA says most businesses and their operating models, including PSGEs, Māori-focused entities and Crown and local government agencies, have been structured based on Pākeha philosophies and ways of life, but this is changing.

“Changes are occurring to embrace the Māori world view, and they need to,” he says. “A vital step forward in this direction is the adoption of mātāpono (Māori values) and te reo (Māori language). When this occurs, non-Māori organisations in particular can start to embrace a Māori world view…”

For example, at Tainui Group Holdings, which looks after the commercial interests of Waikato Tainui, one of New Zealand’s largest iwi (tribes), commercial success is not an end in itself. Instead, the organisation is considered a vehicle to drive better social, environmental and cultural outcomes for its people.

Drivers of change

The first Māori chartered accountant, Sir Hēnare Ngata (the son of Sir Āpirana Turupa Ngata, whose image is on New Zealand’s $50 note) used accountancy as a tool for advocacy. During a long career in both politics and accounting, he worked tirelessly to establish better Māori land laws and a workable settlement treaty process, while helping Māori landowners access development finance.

Today, Māori businesses and post-settlement entities are a force to be reckoned with in New Zealand, with the asset base of Te Ōhanga Māori (the Māori economy) growing by 60% to NZ$67 billion between 2013 and 2018. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise predicts it will be worth more than NZ$100 billion by 2030.

However, to continue to grow, there’s a need for more Māori with business, accounting and entrepreneurial knowledge in both PSGEs and private business.

“Iwi, hapū and Māori-focused organisations today are crying out for commercial advisers with Māori heritage,” says Tainui.

“Talent with Māori heritage comes with DNA, mātauranga (traditional knowledge) and experience that has been handed down to them from their tipuna. This is something that can’t generally be taught.” 

Developing new Māori leaders

In a bid to attract more Māori into accounting and empower a new generation of future leaders, in October BDO launched the Sir Hēnare Ngata Scholarship for Māori accounting students heading into their final year.

The three national scholarships provide NZ$7500 in financial assistance for study related costs, NZ$1500 for registration for Ngā Kaitatau Māori o Aotearoa hui (the National Māori Accountants Network conference) and related costs and a mentorship with BDO for the final year of study (March to November).

Anderson-Town believes that by showing young Māori that accounting is about more than just numbers – it’s about telling stories – it will increase the ranks of Māori well beyond 3% of finance professionals.

“A lot of businesses are turning to Māori businesses and seeing how they operate and trying to learn and adopt ways of thinking for the benefit of all.

“It’s not about an individual benefit but the entire community,” she says.

“Organisations are now saying, ‘How can we make the whole company better, treat staff better?’ Māori are starting to trigger some of those ways of thinking in the mainstream community.”

Reporting by Māori for Māori

When it comes to communicating results to shareholders, post-settlement governance entities are faced with a unique challenge. How can success be measured and reported against Māori value systems?

Parininihi ki Waitotara is a Māori business that manages 22,313 hectares (55,137 acres) of land in Taranaki and is the area’s largest supplier of milk to dairy processor Fonterra. Its annual reports have attempted to provide an innovative and distinctly Māori solution to the problem.

Each includes reporting using a framework called Te Ara Putanga, or The Way Forward. This includes 31 metrics for success rated from 0-10 and grouped under four traditional Māori values:

Manaakitanga: Care of present and future generations.

Kaitiakitanga: Commitment to leadership.

Whakapono: Adherence to tikanga and belief in the future.

Whānaungatanga/Kotahitanga: Belief in collective action with trusted relationships.

Progress on all Te Ara Putanga metrics are displayed alongside traditional reporting of financial results. This helps provide a full picture of the organisation’s progress in a way that’s both in harmony with Te Ao Māori and easily understood by all shareholders.

Read more:

Te Koparapara: An introduction to the Māori world includes marae protocols, Māori history and looks at Māori society today.

Download the ebook from CA Library

Māori Language Week: The CA couple putting a Māori lens on audit

Auditors Talia Tiori Anderson-Town CA and Cameron Town CA measure the success of Māori business by more than a balance sheet.

Read more