This article is written by Westpac NZ's new CEO, Catherine McGrath. She recently returned to New Zealand from London where she was Head of Channels for Barclays Group, having previously held several senior leadership roles at Barclays since 2013.
New Zealand's move into the traffic light system, and the greater freedoms that come with it, has helped restore some of the "feel good factor" to the Kiwi summer.
It's a relief to be able to plan holidays and catch up freely with friends and family again. Our vaccination rates are high, and Auckland's emergence from a painful lockdown is a further shot in the arm for an already well-performing economy.
But as we prepare to live with COVID-19 in 2022 and beyond, we can't guess what curveballs we may yet face. Living with uncertainty and change is tough but being mentally and financially prepared is the best way we can go into the New Year on the front foot.
What can we learn from overseas?
I lived in London through the early stages of the pandemic, where it felt like for every two steps forward you were taking one step back. It was a roller coaster ride there and across Europe, with returns to normality in warmer months followed by harsh lockdowns.
The UK suffered the same sharp economic drop we did, but whereas we bounced back immediately, their recovery has been more gradual and hindered by further outbreaks and lockdowns. While Westpac's economists expect our GDP to grow steadily into next year, UK economic activity still languishes below pre-pandemic levels.
I worked out of a branch of Barclays Bank throughout lockdown, rather than at home, so I could see my customers' and colleagues' situations first-hand. It was a challenging time, with the virus spreading through communities, authorities scrambling to find the best response, and businesses and homeowners worried about their cash flows.
Whereas New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 before Delta came along, the UK had to learn to live with the virus in the community and at times it was pretty tough.
Given the still evolving nature of the pandemic, learning to live with COVID-19 means being prepared for setbacks to both our mental and financial wellbeing. Uncertainty is exhausting, but it's easier to face when we have plans in place to cope with it.
The summer break provides a timely chance to relax and unwind. But before you do, take some time to pause and think about the year ahead. Is your business set up to switch easily to an online model if restrictions are reimposed? Do you have extra cash from a cancelled holiday that could go towards building your savings buffer or paying down debt? Are there any good spending, saving and wellbeing habits from lockdown you can carry into the New Year?
And how are you feeling financially about 2022? If the answer is "worried" or "not sure", talk to your bank sooner rather than later.
Our customers have come through the latest lockdown well – indeed, savings balances have stayed steady and more homeowners are ahead on their mortgage repayments than they were last year. But we would all do well to heed the lessons learned overseas.
At Westpac, we've been calling large numbers of our customers to check in, but we want to hear from you as well. Whether it's household budgeting advice, helping with business cash flow projections, or equipping Kiwis with the right personal wellbeing tools through our Westpac ambassadors Sir John Kirwan, Richie McCaw, Sophie Pascoe, and Willie Apiata, we want to work together so we can all be more resilient and adaptable.
Give yourself a break
The last couple of years have brought the importance of personal wellbeing to the front of everyone's minds. And it should remain our number one priority over the holidays.
Whatever your plans, please give yourself a break as much as you can. Put down the phone and pick up a book, hit the beach, or do whatever it is that helps you relax. Check in with friends and family, and catch up face-to-face where you can. Many of you will no doubt feel like you're nearly running on empty right now. Take this chance to recharge your batteries.
That way, we can all come back refreshed and confident to take on whatever's thrown our way in 2022.
This article was created for Westpac NZ.