Peter Nicholl attributes much of his success in international finance to his Waikato roots, from his sensible rural start and university training, to the rich and varied learnings he took out of 22 years working with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, some of it as deputy governor.
All of these, he believes, gave him the grist to steer the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CBBH) back from its post-war brink, totally transforming its banking system in the process. Moving that country from the chaos that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s to one that coped with the world’s 2008 financial crisis with relative ease firmly embedded Peter’s global banking career.
Last week, soon after he and his family settled into their new Cambridge home, the now 73-year-old said he could have little imagined how valuable those Waikato lessons would become.
“The New Zealand Reserve Bank is a high-quality institution. Because it’s relatively small, you get to know a bit about everything. Those working in bigger institutions tend to come out as experts in a very narrow field.
“That ability to tackle anything set me up well for Bosnia. It meant that while I didn’t necessarily know all the answers, I understood the questions and knew how and where to find the solutions.”
Peter’s appointment to Bosnia came on the back of a two-year role as executive director with the World Bank Group. He was asked if he would go to Sarajevo to nut out a workable banking system in a war-weary country where four different banking systems and 76 banks serviced a population of just over four million. New Zealand’s perceived ‘neutrality’ proved a big draw-card for the Bosnians.
“Nobody trusted the banks. It was the post-deutschmark and pre-Euro era when people kept piles of notes under their mattresses … there were no ATM machines, no credit cards and numerous different payment systems. Bosnia was transitioning from hyperinflation to price stability, from war to peace, from communism to a market economy, from being part of a large country to becoming an independent state. Any one of those would be have been tough for any country to tackle at any one time – Bosnia was dealing with it all at once.”
Peter’s contribution was highly regarded. He and his family were made citizens of Bosnia just to ensure Peter could stay on as CBBH governor, and he succeeded in getting the bank to name his successor 18 months before he handed over to a new governor in 2004 – something quite unheard of in banking.
“I was very proud when they offered me citizenship,” he said, whisking out a card declaring him to be a Bosnian national.
The respect spilled over to his family. Wife Glynyss, also an economist, worked with Peter on the design of the Bosnian currency and established a successful restaurant in Sarajevo. Favourable mention is still made of her restaurant whenever Peter goes back.
The family, which by then included daughter Lily, went to Italy for seven years after leaving Bosnia. They returned to New Zealand in 2015, living first in Tauranga before moving to Cambridge this year to enable Lily to attend St Peter’s School.
She’s into equestrian and cycling, it seems, and Peter has family in the area. He also has adult children from his first marriage, spread with their families between Wellington and London.
Cambridge offers the Nicholls a new tempo. Glynyss has reluctantly put to rest thoughts of running a small bakery, largely due to a hitherto unidentified allergy, so is putting her energies into creating a sustainable haven out of their suburban garden.
And while the world of international finance might prompt many to glaze over, it energizes Peter. He continues to travel widely as an international consultant – topical and prickly issues such as around cryptocurrencies and bitcoins will be included in his agenda when visiting Kosovo again this month.