New Zealand Super Fund legal team (left to right): Cristina Billett, Sarah Gold, Deborah Denes, Craig Douglas, Sarah Owen, Debbie Heath, Adrien Hunter and Derek Parker. Absent: Andrew Grant.
Can you give us an overview of the in-house legal team at New Zealand Superfund and how you support the work of the organisation?
For those who aren’t familiar with us, we are Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation (Guardians) a Crown entity tasked with investing New Zealand’s sovereign wealth fund. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund/Te Kaitiaki Tahua Penihana Kaumātua o Aotearoa (Fund) (currently approximately $57 billion) will help pay superannuation in the future to you, me and all kiwis. The Fund’s investments are highly diversified across geographies and asset classes, with investments in listed equities, private entities, timber, real estate, infrastructure, financial services and healthcare, using many different types of investment structures. The Guardians also recently got a second fund –a venture capital fund- to manage alongside the main Fund. The new venture capital fund which operates in the market as the Elevate NZ Venture Fund, is a government initiative aimed at growing more innovative industries in New Zealand and lifting productivity.
As a result, the scope of work of the Guardians legal team is pretty broad, international and frankly incredibly interesting.
For the size and complexity of the Fund, we have a pretty small team comprising of our General Counsel, Sarah Owen (who also has a wider job of being on the senior leadership team and also heading the Strategy and Communications teams), me as Head of Legal, Board Secretary, four senior lawyers, and two non-lawyer pros.
In addition, as a supplement to our “everyday lawyering”, members of team are also actively involved in leadership and other initiatives throughout the Guardians, lending governance expertise and experience to numerous projects
What do you do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?
The team partners with the other business teams to deliver strategically focused legal advice to enable business outcomes and informed risk-based decision making. To achieve this, we have a multi-faceted approach. We ensure we are an integral part of the wider team, so we know what’s going on and that we are engaged early. We all have a really strong understanding of the business and pride ourselves on having a high level of technical expertise coupled with a pragmatic business view. As a result, staff across the organization actively seek us out which is awesome.
How does the legal team ensure the long-term focus of building wealth for New Zealanders?
Simple we ensure we always have in mind our mission in everything we do and how we go about doing it, i.e., to maximise the Fund’s return over the long term, without undue risk, so as to reduce the NZ future tax burden. We also have fantastic endowments, vision, and values which we live by.
What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?
We are in growth mode at the Guardians. This means we need to constantly think about how we continue to provide quality legal advice in a scalable way as staff numbers and volumes of investments grow. We are thinking of using a combination of levers to address this including both potentially increasing the size of the team, but also how we best use external resources and IT as an enabler. Another thing that is really top of mind for the team and linked to one of our success factors (being integral to the organisation, being across the business, and knowing what is going on) is the challenge we now face in the COVID setting, i.e., how to stay connected in a work from home/office hybrid model. This means new ways of engaging with the broader team. One small example of this is pushing information out to the organisation in a digestible easy way such as online learning modules, mini teach-ins, etc.
Are there any changes or new technologies you plan to roll out in the next 12 months?
The Guardians is in the process of rolling out the Microsoft 365 suite of products. Earlier this year the legal team had a legal tech hackathon working in collaboration with our IT Business Solutions team, and Matt Farrington from Juno Legal. We spent a day together brainstorming the difficulties the Legal team have, and how we could use IT, and in particular, Microsoft 365 tools to address these, including to simplify and further digitise our work. We ensured we had a quick win after the day and now use MS Planner to help with workflow. Next step is to work through the list from legal hackathon roadmap which is helping make the information needed by the Legal team more visible and centralised. This includes apps like Microsoft Lists, to create and store a list of all legal matters and full details about each, Microsoft Power Automate, to provide a workflow in the background that creates tickets on the planner board when new matter is added on Microsoft List and the creation of wiki pages. It’s all simple stuff but will be super helpful to enable us to do our jobs better and so we can focus our time on delivering what the Guardians value.