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A conversation with Ross Pennington

Ross 3-2Power Finance General Counsel Ross Pennington discusses how he helps businesses bring fintech solutions to life with his experience in structuring credit and contracts.
How did you come to be involved with P^werFinance?

About 18 months ago while I was working for Chapman Tripp, I was pulled in to advise on a bond issue for P^werFinance. We did a bit more work together at the start of the year, and I was quickly impressed by the company’s ambitions, its ethos, and the impact its projects could have on access to finance in New Zealand. I realised these were the people I wanted to work with, that this is where I wanted the next chapter of my career to be.

What made you want to be an advisor for a start-up like P^werFinance?

It was something of a happy accident that I started working for P^werFinance. The ambition of the company was what originally intrigued me but what got me over the line was meeting Dave and the broader team. Once I got to know them, I realised that not only was this company’s value driven approach genuine, that they did really want to re-engage finance to drive sustainability and inclusion, but that they had the talent and experience to make it happen.

How has your previous experience shaped what you are doing now?

My career has been unconventionally conventional. I grew up in rural Taranaki and after spending my teenage years surfing and making art. I enrolled in law having never met a lawyer. But I actually began my career as a commercial analyst for the New Zealand Treasury, then after that spent the next 20 years as a capital markets lawyer in New Zealand, London and San Francisco.

About five years ago, I became deeply involved in infrastructure financing, specifically as a solution to the local housing crisis. That was a key moment for me as I saw how my experience in the capital markets could not just solve my client’s problems but build solutions that can shape the future of finance.

What does your role entail?

As a fintech, our goal is to create simple solutions to complex problems.

My contribution is my experience in structuring credit and contracts, history in using those skills to innovate, and execution capability to help the team bring those solutions to life. I like to take a sheet to things, but with a firm focus on efficacy, not on novelty for its own sake.

What do you think success looks like for you in this role? What would you like to achieve?

We have a massive transition need across our economy, to ensure our businesses and institutions transition to a truly sustainable model – both environmentally and socially. There are of course a lot of good ideas in the industry, but few are landing. It’s a period where the barriers have the upper hand, just when innovation is needed most, resulting in imbalances and more people being underserved.

A key enabling factor for us is our technology, which radically reduces the cost of financial innovation and enables direct participation by broad range of parties – institutional investors, Iwi, philanthropists, and government.  And there is the key – providing tools to enable those who share a joint commitment to sustainability to come together to achieve things that cannot be solved effectively by any of them acting alone.  Helping to find solutions to one or many of the hundreds of finance problems we are trying to solve, from access to finance or affordable housing, would be a massive success.

Why is sustainable financing a focus and what does this look like?

I’ve always been interested in the concept. One of the things I grappled with when I was the co-chair of the Sustainable Finance Forum is what does the concept definitively mean, and how do you turn good ideas into ‘things in the world’. For the World Bank, I worked on the world’s first green bond and some of the first sustainability linked loans, but these were all banking the bankable. They were tweaks to the old system rather than creating new sustainable systems.

Ultimately, I believe sustainable financing is the idea of building a system that could finance a transition to a sustainable future. Banking the un-bankable.

Tell us more about the Sustainable Finance Forum. What is it and how does it tie in with your day job?

The New Zealand Sustainable Finance Forum was established to deliver a Sustainable Finance Roadmap to help New Zealand shift to a financial system that supports sustainable social, environmental and economic wellbeing. I am very proud to have been one of the co-chairs while that roadmap was published and helping create a Centre for Sustainable Finance here in New Zealand, Toitū Tahua.

And now working at P^werFinance, I can use that experience to not just talk about sustainable finance but achieve it.

What key lessons have you learnt in your career – and since joining P^werFinance?

I’ve learnt that finance itself has become a barrier word, when really it is about meeting people’s aspirations. While I was an advisor you were rewarded for developing costly and complex solutions, rather than creating simple pathways, and imbalances like this that have developed over the last 30 years are what we are trying to address.

I’ve also learnt people are driven by collective good rather than self-interest, and I believe P^werFinance is a testament to that.

How would you describe the P^werFinance team?

I would say P^werFinance’s values-driven approach is led by all its people. We all come from different backgrounds and fields, but everyone has the same goal – creating a new financial system that can better serve its users and customers.

Besides all being incredible people, this diversity allows P^werFinance to be multi-disciplinary. There is a wealth of talent within each of our teams, which is quite unconventional for a start-up. Typically, an organisation’s staff will lean heavily in a certain direction or field, but ours is evenly weighted, creating the perfect environment for innovation.

What are you focused on for the next 12 months?

The next 12 months are going to be a very busy time for us. My biggest focus is going to be advising and working with businesses, Iwi and government to demonstrate our capabilities as an enabler of change. Gaining new customers is of course essential, but a bigger and more important part of our work with these stakeholders is to show how fintech can not only generate financial solutions but create a better and more sustainable future for business, communities and generations of New Zealanders.