By Amanda Morrall
A decade since she was appointed the country's first ever Retirement Commissioner - a job which to this day gets confused with "looking after old people" - Diana Crossan is turning out the lights.
While she won't be quitting public life, or work for that matter, Crossan's departure, (in January 2013) will invariably leave a void.
In the 10 years she's occupied the portfolio, which has a broad mandate of looking after the financial welfare of 5 to 105 year-olds, Crossan has been instrumental in setting up a national financial literacy strategy, putting money on the map for millions of Kiwis through the Retirement Commission's flagship website Sorted, getting schools and educators to take a keener interest in teaching personal finance to kids, and raising awareness about the need to save for retirement.
In the interview above, I talked to Diana about her legacy with the recently renamed Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income, and some of the challenges ahead for her successor.
Prior to her leaving the Commission, Crossan will celebrate a few more successes including the launch of a new annual event called Money Week (Sept.2-8) and also a new initiative targeting over 55s.
"Frustratingly", Crossan's efforts to have the Government address identified problems with the sustainability of New Zealand Superannuation (NZS) given the rapidly ageing population, have been ignored.
While Crossan won't mask her disappointment at Prime Minister John Key's dismissal of her proposal to gradually raise the age of eligibility for retirement from 65 to 67 over a 20 year period, Crossan believes her efforts haven't been wasted.
"Naturally anybody in my position would like recommendations to be taken up. Of course that's the not the reality. Politics and other issues get in the way. But the good thing for me is the discussion we've had around the sustainability of NZS has meant that most, or many New Zealanders, will have heard that something will have to give. My real worry was that without that discussion it would have been put on people in a hurry.
"I had a vision that I'd be lying on a beach somewhere and I'd hear a Government say we have to put the age of eligibility up quickly because they didn't do it in 2010 when it was recommended. I don't think any New Zealander will be caught out by that now. So in some ways part of the job is done.''
Between 2010 and 2050, the number of recipients on New Zealand Super is set to balloon from 500,000 to 1.3 million.That's compounded by a fivefold increase in the number of people 85 and over.
NZS (which currently costs 4% of GDP) is forecast to double in cost as a result.
Despite the forecasts, (Mercer's suggested the situation could dwarf the impact of the global financial crisis on NZ by comparison), Crossan doesn't see it as a "crisis."
"I think we have to be careful about the doom and gloom talk and say this is something we can manage and we should plan for it over time. And I think that gives the 30 and 40 years olds time to see where they are heading."