Case study: Toni Kerr

Toni Kerr is a banking professional, with experience in treasury operations and risk management. She has held several senior roles for banks in Sydney and Hong Kong. Toni is Head of Treasury and International Operations for Kiwibank.

Toni is on the board of the Government Superannuation Fund Authority and chairs the Audit and Risk Review Committee.

After returning home in June 2008 and securing a role with Kiwibank, I quickly realised that the change of pace meant I had the capacity to do more with my time. Being highly motivated and determined to stretch myself professionally, the idea of a role in governance began to take hold.

I didn't really know anyone in the finance industry and soon identified the need to raise my profile.  As Wellington is a small place, it didn't take long to make myself known by attending various networking events. Networking is an important tool and I will always make a point of going up to someone I don’t know at an event.  It was having access to other women, some of whom were similarly interested in governance, that encouraged me to take the bold step of putting my name forward through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs' nomination service.

A board role is a big commitment and you don't step into it lightly. Aside from giving serious consideration to the responsibilities and consequences such as personal liability, you need to be prepared to put in a significant amount of time and effort to prepare for each meeting.  This often comes at a cost – sacrificing some of your weekends – so having a supportive and understanding family is key.   I have attended every board meeting since my appointment in 2009 and endeavour to meet requests from management that support their day to day activities whenever possible eg. document signing.  Accessibility to board members can be challenging in some organisations but I would view this as a necessary and important duty of a director.

Another consideration is the type of organisation and composition of the board and I was quite deliberate about seeking a directorship that matched my skill set as well as my own personal values.   It is worrying that some directors do not understand the basic tenet that you are a steward acting on behalf of others.  All the decisions need to be made in the best interests of the organisation and the people whose money you are responsible for. I always overlay any decisions with the question, “Am I comfortable doing this?”.  It is both your credibility on the line as well as the reputation of the organisation you represent.

You need to demonstrate that you are able to add value to the organisation. My directorship was renewed in 2012 for a second term and I was appointed as Chair of the Audit and Risk Review Committee and that was a clear signal I was on track.  I use every opportunity to develop myself in a way that supports my journey through governance  – whether through access to mentors or external training.

For the time being I'm comfortable with one directorship as I have some commitments to community work through Rotary and Business Profession Women.  At some point though I suspect this journey may lead to other professional directorships and I can step away from banking into something that is equally challenging and fulfilling.

The most difficult step is putting your name forward, so if you have ever harboured the idea that governance is for you, I encourage you to take that next step.  The results may surprise you.

Best of luck on your own journey.