Remembering Geoff Ricketts

29 September 2023

In March 2023, Heartland was deeply saddened by the passing of Geoff Ricketts, an esteemed leader who left behind an incredible legacy. As a founding Director, Geoff was pivotal in bringing Heartland together and guiding the business to become what it is today.

In a 2019 Heartland-recorded interview, Geoff described the formation of Heartland with his business partner Sir Christopher Mace. In 2007, before the global financial crisis (GFC), they took a shareholding in Southern Cross Building Society (SCBS) and Geoff soon became Chair.

“We saw an opportunity to establish a bank in New Zealand.” While the building societies had lots of deposits, the banks were leading the market in forward mortgages. To establish a bank, they needed to identify a market in which they could compete for lending. “So, we looked at other alternatives.”

As the GFC began to hit through 2007, a majority shareholder in Canterbury Building Society (CBS) put their shares (approximately 11%) on the market. These were purchased by SCBS, creating a relationship between the South Island and North Island building societies.

At that time, Jeff Greenslade, now CEO of Heartland, had become CEO of MARAC Finance. Geoff took the opportunity to suggest to Jeff that lending from deposits would be more sustainable than the wholesale funding MARAC Finance was leveraging. In 2011, CBS, SCBS and MARAC Finance merged to become Heartland New Zealand Limited (HNZ), and subsequently acquired PGG Wrightson Finance.

“It was difficult times in the GFC. In many ways the three parties were a coalition of the willing because they knew they were stronger together and the best chance to get a banking licence was to put it all together and create the merger.”

Geoff described the opportunity for Heartland was to not have a big branch network, to lend through intermediaries, offer products through digital platforms, and operate in markets not serviced by the big banks.

“And it worked.” Heartland listed on the NZX and became a registered bank in 2012.

Geoff was appointed Chair of Heartland’s Board in August 2013 and stood down as Chair on 20 February 2023 due to illness. He remained a valued Director until his passing on 10 March 2023.

In his time as Chair, HNZ evolved to become the Heartland it is today, now a trans-Tasman, dual-listed financial services company providing banking and financial services to more than 130,000 customers, with a market cap in excess of $1 billion.

Through his experience as Chair of Lion Nathan, Geoff was a strong advocate for Heartland’s expansion into Australia. Since the 2014 acquisition of its reverse mortgage business, the Australian market has served Heartland well and continues to present significant opportunity for growth.

Geoff’s contribution to Heartland extended well beyond strategic leadership and governance of the commercial business. A strong supporter of community and philanthropic activities, Geoff also chaired the Heartland Trust and was passionate about the opportunity to give back to the communities in which Heartland operated.

Geoff described Heartland’s future as “strong and bright”. “We will continue to operate in the asset space and differentiated markets from the [major] banks. We will continue to attract deposits readily… and we’re becoming a digital bank, which is where the future is.”

Jeff Greenslade, CEO, recalls Geoff’s commitment to that future. “On multiple occasions he told me he would remain as Chair until Heartland’s profit reached $100 million. He very nearly saw that transpire, and I think he would be proud of the growth we have achieved.”

Geoff’s legacy and vision for Heartland continues as a source of influence as the company embarks on the next phase of its growth journey. Watch the full interview with Geoff about the origins of Heartland and his vision for the future: The origins of Heartland, with Geoff Ricketts.