Chief Economist, ANZ
BA English, Economics / MCom Economics, 1997/98
Improving NZ’s Financial Literacy.
Chief Economist at ANZ Bank, Sharon Zollner almost dropped economics in her second year at UC. A lecturer convinced her to continue and after completing an internship at the Reserve Bank she discovered a passion for the field. While she enjoys the fast pace of her current role, it's the public service aspect that resonates with her the most. “I particularly enjoy the educational aspect of what I do. I find it very rewarding to help people understand the bigger forces at work which impact them on a personal level.”
So you’re a Chief Economist – impressive! Can you give us a snapshot of that role?
I lead a team of seven economists. We perform a range of roles, from predicting the Reserve Bank’s decisions, to providing guidance for our internal teams and our clients. We also speak at conferences and events. I particularly enjoy the educational aspect of my role. There’s a public service element to what we do.
Why do you think that educational component is important?
Financial literacy in this country is pretty woeful. People tend to compare themselves with their peers. They look over the fence and think that if everyone else has a million-dollar mortgage, it must be okay. But that's an incomplete analysis, one could say! I find it very rewarding to help people understand the bigger forces at work which impact them on a personal level.
What’s it like being “chief”?
It's quite exhilarating. I enjoy the fast pace. I’m new to the role – I have two children and I had been working part time as senior economist. I must say that was rather a nice lifestyle! It was not an easy decision to give it up. But then there's that idea of “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. My husband has gone to 4 days a week and we’ll get extra help in if required. Being Chief Economist is very stimulating and enjoyable, and it’s up to me how much I choose to ‘live the role’ or maintain a degree of balance.
Were you always interested in economics?
Actually, no! I did a BA in all sorts of things – psychology, sociology, English literature, economics, maths. I was going to drop economics in second year because it wasn’t really grabbing me, but a lecturer persuaded me to stick with it. In third year I did a summer internship at the Reserve Bank and had a ball! I absolutely loved it and learned a huge amount. I realised that the subject which hadn't captured my imagination at university could actually lead onto some really fascinating jobs.
What do you find fascinating about economics now?
Economics is not just about money. It’s about people and resources, and how we share them among ourselves across time. Those are really important questions. People who think they can avoid economics are dreaming. Even cave people had economics, they just didn't articulate it in the same way.
Do you think internships are important for students to seek out?
For me it made a huge difference, partly because I was offered a job out of it. Internships give students a chance to network, put theories into practice and discover what they might like to do in their career. Of course, some people do internships and discover what they don't want to do. But that’s still much better than taking on a permanent position and then realising it’s a mistake.
Any advice for those just starting out on their path?
Do the Honours year. Just get it done. I'm recruiting now and I have one very promising candidate who didn't do their Honours at the time. Now they need to take a year out to get. When you have a mortgage and a career that's really hard. As a general rule, it's a lot easier to study when you're footloose and fancy free.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently
I probably wouldn't have killed myself to the extent I did! I was a total perfectionist and got perfect grades, but in the end I didn’t use them because I’d already been offered my first job with the Reserve Bank. I do wish I’d lived a more balanced life at university. There’s so much on offer in terms of social clubs, cultural experiences, sports and all that stuff. I enjoyed university, but I could have enjoyed it even more if I had broadened my experience a bit.
Why do you think students today should consider UC?
UC has solid reputation and any degree from there will be well respected. It costs less to live in Christchurch which is helpful too. But the thing I like most about UC is that it has a heart. There's a really strong campus vibe that you don't get anywhere else.
What's your ambition for the future?
My ambition is to do this job incredibly well. It’s a big exciting job and if this was the peak of my career I'd be well content. I’d also like to raise happy children and maintain a bit of life-work balance. But it's fair to say that in terms of my career I've beaten my own expectations!