Sep 7, 2018

Bringing a new perspective to our history and heritage :

how a little idea grew to becoming a reality

By Pera Barrett

It’s easy to forget the difference an accumulated sum of small efforts can make.

Over the last month or so, a bunch of us in the Digital team at BNZ and beyond have been working on building Te Reo Māori translations into our banking apps. We did this because we believe whether or not you speak the language, our Māori heritage is part of what makes this little place we call home, so special, and Te Reo Māori is a big part of that heritage and history. We’re the Bank for New Zealand so we think we should play our part in offering customers the option to learn or bank the way they want. Part of this piece of work was figuring out how to do the same for other languages too.


“There were two things we wanted to achieve: giving customers the option of learning, and supporting the growth of the language and elaborating on our heritage.”


We knew we were on the right track when we tested the idea with our customers; they learnt new Te Reo Māori kupu (words) in the process of banking – so they were growing on an individual level, in their day to day life, via us and their banking. We had the theme of helping our customers to grow, and made this our mantra.

Some of those customers talked about how they would then go out and use those new words in their day to day life, outside of their day to day banking. So they were helping, via us, evolve and grow the language of Te Reo Māori. For example, the word for Edit is Whakatika, that’s a re-contextualisation of a word that’s already in use. By us using it in the context of editing your account, we’re setting an example for the use of that word in that context. That’s how languages spread and grow. If we can help support a part of our heritage, we should.

Throughout the process we had lots of conversations about the act of translating and we learned that like any other language, Te Reo Māori is subjective. In English we already know there are a lot of different ways to say ‘make a change to my account.’ Because we don’t have as many opportunities to use Te Reo in all the contexts we use English within, we don’t have as many agreed ways to express an intent or action – so some of these terms, our Māori Language Commission certified translators were figuring out for the first time.

Outside of how important Te Reo Māori is to myself and many of our customers, it’s easy to forget how many small differences we can make – we’re just a bank, right? We help customers with small slices of their day to day life. But as experience creators, we can design that help around what our customers value. We can paint those small pieces of day to day life with a reminder and an assurance that regardless of how things can seem sometimes, the world isn’t only designed around other people, or the masses. We can (and should) proactively foster inclusion in the industries of banking and digital. We should be designing experiences for all of our customers, not just some, not just the majority, and definitely not just the ones who are like us. The sum of those small differences can equal inclusion. I think that’s a responsibility we all have as citizens of Aotearoa and the world. That’s why we made sure we built this in a way that allowed other languages as well – but given it’s continual decline in use and the fact it’s now labelled as a ‘vulnerable’ language by Unesco, starting with Te Reo Māori felt right.

On a more personal note, like some of the customers we tested this with, I didn’t learn Te Reo Māori growing up. We didn’t speak a lot of Māori around the home (my Dad’s mother wasn’t actually allowed to speak Te Reo at school – her and her classmates were beaten if they did), and I’ve felt disconnected from a major part of my heritage and identity ever since – unfortunately, that’s a pretty common situation. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I realised how important that connection was, and started my own learning journey. There’s a challenging cycle of being embarrassed that I’m Maori and unable to speak as much of my own language as I should, and therefore lacking the confidence to learn and speak with those who have already started their journey – again, that’s a pretty common situation for Māori who aren’t fluent.

I hope you take the time to learn a few new words this Te Wiki o te reo Māori (Maori Language Week), but most of all I hope this is another small addition to the greater sum of inclusion and understanding.





Pera Barrett

Pera Barrett
Digital People Leader at BNZ. Father to two beautiful kids, chaser of good things and learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not purport to represent the views of BNZ. BNZ does not accept any liability for any loss or damage that may result from this publication. More information here.