Date posted: 14/08/2019 5 min read

Te Reo Pakihi: Talking business in Māori

Eighty New Zealand business professionals enhanced their Māori language skills and cultural knowledge over two days.

In Brief

  • The Kura Reo Pakihi Māori language course for finance professionals focuses on both language and cultural knowledge.
  • CAs in practice have found it useful for better connecting with Māori clients.
  • Creating terms for business concepts in te reo Māori could aid the continued growth of the Māori economy.

The Māori economy is worth an estimated NZ$50 billion and is growing rapidly, yet there are very few financial terms and business concepts expressed in the Māori language. However, that is starting to change through the efforts of people such as Brook Grant and his colleagues at Reo Whairawa Limited [Reo Whairawa translates as “the language of wealth”] – a boutique consultancy focused on the development and promotion of te reo Māori (Māori language) in the commercial sector.

Over two days in April, Reo Whairawa hosted its inaugural Kura Reo Pakihi Māori language course for business professionals at the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s Tangatarua Marae – or meeting place – in Rotorua. Participants stayed onsite, sleeping on the floor of Ihenga, the wharenui (meeting house).

Among the 80 business professionals attending were a number of chartered accountants and representatives from the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) leadership team, along with staff from trading banks and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

“As the Māori economy grows in influence, it seems only natural to me that we need to develop the Māori language so it can accommodate financial and economic matters, because otherwise it will become obsolete,” says Grant.

“That is the driver behind the effort to promote the growth of Māori-specific language for this sector, because I think that even if our wealth and our business increases, that is nothing to us if our language dies alongside it.

A 2017 report by commercial law firm Chapman Tripp, Te Ao Māori Trends and Insights, valued the Māori economy at NZ$50 billion and predicted it will get bigger and more diverse once all Iwi and Hapū (Māori clans and social units) finalise their treaty settlements.

Translating finance terms into Maori

Brook Grant (second from left) and his fellow Reo Whairawa instructors.Brook Grant (second from left) and his fellow Reo Whairawa instructors.

“I have young kids. I don’t want them to get to the stage where the Māori economy is worth NZ$100 billion, but we can only talk in our own language about limited subjects, like the weather and sport,” says Grant.

With a Māori mother and Pākehā father, he says he was only exposed to the Māori language at kindergarten and then briefly at high school. That’s not unusual. Stats NZ data from 2013 showed only 21% of Māori people spoke the language.

In recent years, Grant has put significant effort into becoming fluent, and is now on a personal mission to reinvigorate the language by making it relevant to business and also to information technology, the “sectors of the future”.

In his day job, Grant is a consultant with GHA Chartered Accountants and Management Consultants, which works entirely with Māori enterprises.

“We have already begun to weave Māori language into business documents, through bilingual headings, and we can substitute Māori terms,” he says. “Using this method in board packs and financial statements is a way of people absorbing the language subconsciously.”

A bigger effort, however, is in coming up with new financial terms in Māori rather than just adopting them from English.

“The Māori reference the natural environment when they are speaking, so we are seeking to translate financial terms in ways that help explain the underlying meaning,” says Grant.

The Māori language does not have any terms for a recession, for example, so Grant and his colleagues developed a phrase based on the “tide running out on an economy”.

“Economic expansion is when the tide comes in and recession is when it goes out,” he explains.

Another example is the concept of credit risk, where Grant and his colleagues took a different approach to basing Māori terms simply on the English ideas of debt or risk.

“We thought about it and that behind the idea of credit risk was the risk that you take in not being paid back, so that was our Māori translation – the risk that you don’t get paid back,” he says.

Connecting with clients through Maori language

The attendees stayed overnight at the wharenui.The attendees stayed overnight at the wharenui.

For the accounting and finance professionals who attended the recent course, Māori business is integral to what they do, so improving their language skills and cultural knowledge was a natural extension.

Matthew Davis CA is a principal at Ake Accounting in Whakatane, where he says “80-90%” of his firm’s clients are Māori.

“I’m a Pākehā but our firm is very focused on its client base,” says Davis. “I wasn’t as up on the cultural side of Māori customs as I would like to be, and I wanted to learn some more language we can integrate into what we do day-to-day as a firm.”

Jared Hulton CA, an auditor at BDO New Zealand in Rotorua, is Māori and says the course helped him understand how other professionals are integrating te reo Māori into their workplaces.

“It helped me understand how this can be used to further enhance our understanding of what makes Māori entities different,” says Hulton.

“The resurgence of te reo Māori, as a whole, means its use is increasing within the New Zealand economy. As trusted advisers, chartered accountants need to better understand tikanga (Māori cultural etiquette) to enable us to understand our client’s needs and provide a relevant and meaningful service.”

“The resurgence of te reo Māori, as a whole, means its use is increasing within the New Zealand economy.”
Jared Hulton CA

Also at the two-day language course was CA ANZ’s group executive for New Zealand and the Pacific, Peter Vial FCA, who says that the organisation is highly supportive of strengthening the use of Māori language both in the profession and the wider community.

“We have a lot of Māori CAs already and a strong pipeline of young Māori coming into the profession,” Vial explains.

“It’s appropriate for us to be part of increasing the use of Māori, because Māori culture is critical to our collective identity as New Zealanders and, also, Māori business is on the rise and is making a big economic contribution.”

A target of one million te reo speakers

Like the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which is already using many bilingual terms and announced a partnership with the Māori Language Commission in June, CA ANZ is working with the Commission to promote the use of Māori language. CA ANZ endorses the organisation’s target of one million basic te reo speakers by 2040.

“We might be at the start of that journey but we are very keen to support the resurgence of the language and play our part,” says Vial.

Where much of the effort to promote Māori language had occurred in organisational silos in the past, there is now a whole-of-government approach which business and professional organisations such as CA ANZ could also contribute to.

On a personal level, Vial describes himself as “an enthusiastic beginner”. But he says his language “definitely improved” over the two-day course, as did his understanding of the culture, protocols and customs.

“I was a bit apprehensive about sleeping on the floor at the marae along with everyone else,” he says, “but it was a lot of fun and a really positive experience.”

Read more:

Kura Reo Pakihi Māori course

Reo Whairawa plans to run its Kura Reo Pakihi introductory Māori language course for business professionals over a weekend in March or April each year. Early bird registrations for 2020 will open in September. To book, or to ask about a tailored in-house Māori language course for your organisation, email [email protected].

Like the Reo Whairawa Facebook page at for updates.

Māori Language Week 2019

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) is a New Zealand government-funded initiative celebrating the Māori language. Running from 9-15 September 2019, this year’s theme is Kia Kaha Te Reo Māori (Let’s Make the Māori Language Strong).